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Published: Thursday, 6/12/2003

Mayor wary of airport takeover bid

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Mayor Jack Ford doesn't share Councilman Peter Gerken's enthusiasm for taking over operations at Toledo Express Airport.

Mr. Ford said yesterday he'll look into a possible management change, as Mr. Gerken requested, but he said the cost could outweigh the benefits.

The city owns the airport and the airport property but leases the airport to the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority for $1 a year. The lease expires this year.

Mr. Gerken called for a study of city management of the international airport west of Toledo because it would allow the city to annex the land, and thus collect the 2.25-percent wage tax from the nearly 2,000 people who work there.

“There seems to be a pretty strong financial incentive,” Mr. Ford said yesterday. “But a due-diligence study would show there's outstanding debt. A million dollars is a lot of money, but there may be millions more in obligations.”

Mr. Ford said he was impressed with a recent experience with the airport. He, port authority President Jim Hartung, and some others recently flew on Atlantic Southeast Airlines from Toledo Express.

He said it took him nine minutes to get from his car, through security, and to the boarding gate. “It was a super-smooth trip to Atlanta,” Mr. Ford said.

Port authority spokesman Brian Schwartz said the airport owes $9 million to port authority reserves.

The mayor said he will continue trying to change state law to accomplish the goal of imposing the city's payroll tax there.

“I think it's reasonable to pursue that. We'll keep talking about that,” Mr. Ford said.

The mayor last month tried to persuade key state lawmakers to amend a law that says an international airport owned and operated by a city may be annexed by the city. Mr. Ford's effort to delete the words “and operated” was defeated by the Republican-controlled Senate Finance Committee this month.

Mr. Hartung said the port authority is proud of its management of the facility, and is not eager to give up the operations. He said the $9 million taken from port authority reserves was used to leverage $90 million from the Federal Aviation Administration for airport improvements.

He also expressed concern about the effect on recruiting businesses to the airport if the city imposed its 2.25-percent tax.

“We act as the ombudsmen for our tenants. We are always working to keep their cost of doing business down. An annexation or tax adds to the cost of doing business,” he said.

But Mr. Hartung said there may be ways for the city to get some revenue from the airport.

“We understand this is a city-owned facility and we understand the city's need for revenue during these tight times,” Mr. Hartung said. “It would have to be carefully explored, and maybe that's the spirit Peter Gerken is suggesting.”



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