By Ed Runyan
The July pay raise at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport that triggered a response by Trumbull County commissioners has been erased, but Commissioner Paul Heltzel says another step is needed.
At Wednesday’s meeting of the Western Reserve Port Authority, which runs the airport, the board voted 5-2 to rescind the $7,500 bonus it gave last month to Dan Dickten, the airport’s director of aviation.
After hearing about Dickten’s bonus, Trumbull commissioners complained, saying the bonus sends the wrong message to county employees who have taken several years of pay freezes, no matter how good a job Dickten has done.
To reinforce the point, Trumbull County decreased its funding to the airport, effective Oct. 1, by about $120,000 annually, the equivalent of 1 percent of the Trumbull bed tax that supports the airport.
But since Trumbull’s commissioners also are unhappy that Mahoning County’s commissioners have not increased their contribution to airport funding as promised, Heltzel said the $120,000 cut in Trumbull’s contribution still stands.
There have been informal conversations between Trumbull and Mahoning officials since Trumbull reduced its airport funding but nothing concrete, Heltzel said, adding he wants Mahoning to increase its bed tax 1 percent or 2 percent before Trumbull will restore the $120,000.
Calls to the three Mahoning County commissioners were not returned Wednesday.
If Trumbull County’s reduction goes into effect in October, Trumbull will be giving the airport about $230,000 annually in bed- tax money, while Mahoning County will be giving about $520,000, based on 2011 figures. Trumbull gave the airport $350,877 in bed-tax money in 2011, according to Trumbull County records.
A 1 percent increase would raise Mahoning’s contribution by about $250,000 annually.
Heltzel said one thing Mahoning County officials may not have considered is the unfairness to Trumbull County hotels and motels of having to charge a higher bed tax than Mahoning County, because of Trumbull County’s charging a larger amount to finance the airport.
Trumbull County’s total bed tax, levied on people staying at hotels and motels, is 5 percent; Mahoning’s is 3 percent. Of the 5 percent in Trumbull, 3 percent is given to the airport. In Mahoning, 2 percent is given to the airport. Certain communities in each county also add on their own bed tax.
Even with a lower bed-tax rate than Trumbull, Mahoning County’s bed tax generates a larger amount of money for the airport because Mahoning has more motel rooms than Trumbull, officials have explained.
In other airport business, the authority approved paying $29,500 to Silverload Consulting Corp. of Cleveland to study the feasibility of developing a railroad freight facility and/or pipeline facility at the airport.
Randy Smith, Trumbull County engineer, has committed to providing $9,823, one-third of the funding, authority officials have said, because of the benefit to county roads if rail or pipeline options become available. A rail facility and pipelines will reduce the amount of truck traffic on area roads, said Rose Ann DeLeon, port authority executive director.
The Mahoning Valley has a lot of truck traffic because haulers don’t have as many good rail options here as Cleveland and Pittsburgh, DeLeon said. The need for such options will increase as the Utica Shale industry develops here, DeLeon said.
Port authority members also approved spending up to $12,000 for legal help from the firm Harrington, Hoppe and Mitchell regarding the lease of mineral rights on land owned by the authority.