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Published: Friday, 3/25/2005

Airport to restore skycap, limo service

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Travelers using Toledo Express Airport no longer have to worry about whether they can get skycap help carrying their bags.

The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority's board of directors, which oversees the airport, yesterday also approved a limousine company to service customers and voted 12-1 to approve a 5 percent pay raise for the authority's president.

The pay raise will elevate authority President James Hartung's annual salary from $147,997 to $155,397.

Thomas Palmer, the board's chairman, cited Mr. Hartung's "excellence" and "vision" in recommending the raise after an executive session during which the board discussed the president's recent job performance.

The port board earlier approved a two-year contract, with three one-year options, with PrimeFlight Aviation Services of Nashville to provide skycap, porter, and ticket-checker services.

Travelers on Northwest Airlink and American Eagle were left holding their bags last year when those two carriers pulled out of a cooperative funding pool that financed skycap service by the same company. Passengers were left to either request help from counter staff or go it alone.

Airline representatives said their passengers' modest usage of skycaps didn't justify the cost - Airlink operator Mesaba Airlines said it was saving $3,000 per month by pulling out of the pool and instructing counter staff to help passengers who requested assistance.

But port officials agreed that having skycap service was critical to promoting Toledo Express' convenience.

"This is important to the service level at the airport, part of our continuing effort to do it better and quicker," said G. Opie Rollison, chairman of the airport committee.

PrimeFlight is to be paid $153,123 per year. The airlines at Toledo Express are to reimburse the port authority for 100 percent of the cost of ticket checking, 50 percent of the cost of porter and wheelchair assistance, and 75 percent of the cost of skycap management. The public agency's total share is expected to be about $40,000 per year, to be paid from its contractual services budget.

"At least now, it puts us in control," Mr. Rollison said. "We can tell the [skycap] people, 'We want you to do the service.'‚óŹ"

Ground transportation has been a longer-term thorn.

Expressions Limousine yesterday was permanently hired to handle transportation service it took over at the airport in January when another service pulled out. Its bid to pay at least $6,000 a year for the exclusive right to solicit passengers at the airport exceeded the only other bidder, Toledo Livery Service, by $1,000.

The port authority in 2001 awarded Childers an exclusive cab and limo franchise to address independent cab operators, who sometimes fought over fares and occasionally delivered passengers to the wrong places. But Childers pulled out in January, saying it wasn't making enough to cover the $1,300 per month it paid the port authority.

Expressions, which has been operating on an interim basis, will pay the port less than half that much under its contract, which is for two years with three one-year options.

Mr. Hartung's raise is technically his first in two years, although the port board waited until late in 2003 to award him half of his 4 percent raise for that year, paying him $2,908 retroactively in December.

Mr. Palmer cited what he described as Mr. Hartung's "leadership" role in an agreement the city of Toledo and Lucas County reached last year to merge their economic development departments, the port's record volume of business loans last year, and the landing of an "energetic stevedore" to take over operation of Toledo's publicly owned general cargo docks as top justifications for the president's higher pay.

Port officials hope aggressive marketing by Midwest Terminals of Toledo International will help reverse a four-year decline in cargo volume on the local waterfront, though the port's total tonnage relies heavily on coal and iron ore traffic that depends largely on the steel industry's health.

Mr. Hartung's raise comes despite a recent sharp drop in passenger business at Toledo Express, which lost its US Airways Express and ATA Connection service last year because of airline cutbacks. Passenger travel through the local airport plunged by 21 percent last month compared with February, 2004, continuing a trend that began late last year.

Mr. Rollison cast the lone dissenting vote, just as he had voted against the Dec. 18, 2003, resolution granting Mr. Hartung the second half of the 2003 raise. But also as he did then, Mr. Rollison declined to explain his reasoning yesterday.

"Personnel matters are confidential," he said. "It's best to leave personnel issues aside."

Board member Carty Finkbeiner said the 5 percent recommendation was a compromise solution, with some board members suggesting a higher amount while others went lower.

"It was an appropriate, fair figure," Mr. Finkbeiner said after the vote. "He hadn't had an increase in two years, so it comes out to about 2 1/2 percent for each year."

The executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, which manages the busiest U.S. port on the Great Lakes, is paid 95 percent of the Minnesota governor's salary - currently $114,288 compared to the governor's $120,303. The president of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority currently makes $139,100. Neither agency manages its city's airport or train station, responsibilities that the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority has in addition to its lake port.

The port authority board also approved a lease amendment with CSX Transportation that will make land available at the port-owned coal docks to become the site of a controversial coke works.

CSX has agreed to surrender 51.8 acres of its leasehold at the site back to the port authority in exchange for an extension of its lease for the rest of the coal dock property. The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway sold the docks to the port authority 40 years ago and leased them back until 2019.

The lease extension and leasehold surrender will not occur if the U.S. Coking Group project does not go through.

According to a port authority staff report, CSX has agreed to spend $76 million to improve rail facilities in the area to support the coke works if it is built - spending that is proposed to be financed with port authority bonds.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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