By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority will nearly double the amount it spends to market Toledo Express Airport in 2000, if the port board adopts next year’s proposed operating budget.
The spending plan, debated at a meeting of the port board’s finance committee yesterday, raises the airport’s marketing budget to $170,000 from $100,000.
“We’ve got an uphill battle, and we need to stay in the public mind to keep competitive,” airport director Gary Quill said.
Toledo Express has experienced a substantial drop in traffic in 1999, with the number of departing passengers dropping 23.5 per cent from last year’s levels, according to statistics through October.
The biggest culprits were Delta Air Lines and AirTran Airways, which canceled their Toledo service last year. Delta ended its direct flights to Atlanta in October, 1998. AirTran canceled its Toledo-Orlando route eight months earlier.
But the last few months have seen several positive developments that have port leaders thinking the trend could be reversed.
Service to Atlanta returned to Toledo Express on Oct. 1 with the arrival of Atlantic Southeast Airlines. This month, American Eagle is introducing the use of 50-seat regional jets on its five daily flights to Chicago, replacing less comfortable turbo-prop planes.
“It makes sense to sell the airport when you’ve got good things like regional jets to sell,” port board member George Ballas said.
The airport has been running a marketing campaign since July, with print, radio, and TV advertisements. The extra money will allow the campaign to run year-round, Mr. Quill said.
“So many people fly through Detroit that you have to keep reminding people there’s an alternative here,” he said.
The marketing money is one of the relatively few changes in the 2000 budget. The full port board will consider the budget at its monthly meeting Friday morning.
The budget projects revenues of $12.02 million, against expenditures of $11.87 million. If those numbers hold, 2000 would be the sixth straight year the port finishes in the black. If it has to, the balance would be made up with port authority reserves.
Revenue and expenditure projections are up slightly less than 4 per cent over 1999’s budget. Contract services are projected to drop 17 per cent, mostly because legal costs should drop if the airport-noise lawsuit is resolved.
The budget includes the $1.35 million the port authority will pay to the Regional Growth Partnership to fund northwest Ohio’s lead economic development body.
That funding, along with $890,000 used for maintenance and operations at the airport and seaport, comes from the property tax levy Lucas County voters approved in November.
According to the document’s projections, the seaport is the port authority’s cash cow. It stands to take in $801,000 more than it spends in 2000. In contrast, the port’s airport and surface transportation divisions could lose nearly $284,000.
The budget includes a 3.9 per cent rise in personnel costs over 1999’s budgeted amount. That increase will allow an overall 3.5 per cent raise in the salaries of non-union personnel at the port.
James Hartung, port president, will determine how to allocate that money to individual employees.
The port uses a complex set of calculations, including performance evaluations and average salary ranges for similar positions nationwide, to determine the size of raises. Mr. Hartung said he doesn’t believe any of the increases will be higher than 4 or 5 per cent.
The calculation process does not cover Mr. Hartung’s salary. His salary, now $129,960, is reviewed by the port board every May.