Sunday, Sep 25, 2016
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Editorials

Another taxing mess

BACK in the autumn of 1919, an Army pilot running out of fuel over northern Wood County put his plane down in a corn field on land that eventually became this area's earliest landing strip. Sergeant Pomeroy - first name long forgotten - clearly was flying by the seat of his pants. Nearly 84 years later, so is the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.

In what is rapidly becoming the Revelation of the Month, the port authority has discovered that the tax bills for yet another tenant are screwed up. The agency has mistakenly been paying the taxes for Express Avionics for eight years - $54,000 in all so far.

If this were an isolated incident, we'd chalk it up - rightly and without surprise - to weak port authority management and demand closer attention to business to make sure it didn't happen again.

But this is the third time in 31/2 months. The litany of tax embarrassments at the airport began in February, when it was disclosed that the City of Toledo, which owns the airport and leases it to the port authority for a dollar a year, had not forwarded any tax bills to air cargo company Grand Aire Express since 1999, meaning Grand Aire owed some $50,000 in back taxes.

Shortly thereafter the public learned that for eight years the port authority had been erroneously sending tax bills for property owned by the National Guard to cargo carrier BAX Global, the airport's biggest tenant. BAX dutifully paid the bills, in effect covering its own taxes and the Guard's and overpaying by some $400,000 in the process.

Now the taxpayers are told about Express Avionics getting a free ride on taxes from the port authority.

Irony abounds. Just as the law prohibits BAX from getting a refund of the taxes it paid in error and in good faith, the port authority is similarly forbidden from retrieving from the county treasurer the $54,000 it has unwittingly paid on Express Avionics' behalf.

While all this is sorted out, an outside review of the agency's handling of tax bills - approved unanimously by the board in March - still has not begun, angering board member Jerry Chabler and entitling an incredulous public to ask why the delay.

Mr. Chabler, in fact, as chairman of the port authority's airport committee, raises an intriguing issue: Maybe this pattern of bumbling mismanagement by the agency means the airport should be returned to the City of Toledo.

Certainly there is plenty of precedent. Many cities operate their airports - in fact the biggest airport in the world is owned and operated by the City of Chicago.

An overnight net gain for the city would be a boost in payroll taxes, money that could help support bond sales to finance major improvements, such as a new parallel main runway and an extension of the north-south runway.

It has been 30 years now since the city turned over operation of the airport to the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. But even though the port authority has a lease with the city, if the mayor and city council were to pass a resolution asking for the airport's return, the agency's unelected board would be hard-pressed to say no.

A culture of incompetence that is remarkably resistant to change permeates the port authority leadership, including the board, president James Hartung, and airport director Paul Toth.

Rooting it out is next to impossible, but Toledo Express Airport is simply too critical to this region's economic development and well-being for this sort of ineptitude to continue indefinitely.

We don't have to beat on this; the facts speak for themselves. If the taxpayers share our lack of confidence in the port authority's management of the airport, it's because they see what we see, and it isn't pretty.

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