VIENNA - By a divided vote, members of the Western Reserve Port Authority on Wednesday granted director of aviation Dan Dickten a new contract and a 20 percent increase in his salary.
The new three-year deal was approved by a 5 to 3 vote after a lengthy executive session. It brings Dickten's salary from $75,000 to $90,000 for years one and two. It will increase to $92,700 in the third year.
Port Authority chairman Scott Lynn said the board that oversees operations at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport felt it was necessary to increase Dickten's salary to make his compensation more in line with other comparable airports.
"As a board, we are not looking at it as a raise because it's a new contract. We are looking at bringing him up to industry standards," Lynn said. "We realize if he left and we had to go out and search for a new director, we would have paid more."
Lynn said research has shown that the average salary for a director of aviation at similar-sized airports is $96,500.
Lynn said Dickten has been responsible for increasing parking lot revenue by nearly $250,000 last year, and he handled lease negotiations with airport businesses, was involved in the addition of a second rental car company and has done a good job with day-to-day management issues. Lynn also said under Dickten's management, enplanements have increased 15 to 20 percent per year.
The contract and salary increase comes less than a year after the port authority granted, then rescinded, a $7,500 bonus as a reward to Dickten for good work. The board members rescinded the bonus last summer after criticism by Trumbull County commissioners and threats that they would roll back a portion of the funding they provide to the port authority.
This time, Lynn said the port authority ran the contract amount by commissioners in both Trumbull and Mahoning counties before its passage.
Trumbull Commissioner Paul Heltzel, who had been vocal in his criticism of the $7,500 bonus a year ago, on Wednesday said he did not have a problem with the new contract and increased salary.
"The difference is this is a new contract. Before, he already had a contract," Heltzel said. "They re-evaluated the job and made adjustments accordingly," Heltzel said.
As part of what Lynn described as its "due diligence," the port authority conducted a survey of 20 similar airports in the U.S. Among them were three airports in the Pennsylvania- Erie, Williamsport and Latrobe - which paid their directors $99,920, $96,264 and $90,000 respectively in the opening year of their contracts. Ohio's Toledo Express, the only Ohio airport listed in the survey, paid $105,000 to its director in the opening year of the contract.
Dickten, who has been with the airport for three years, said he was pleased with the board's decision and will continue to make daily passenger service his priority.
"We still have a ways to go until we have this airport at a level where we would like to see it," Dickten said. "I believe that the valley's potential economic well-being can't be reached until we acquire daily airline service here."
Voting no on the contract were port authority members Richard Schiraldi, Scott Lewis and James Floyd. All three declined comment following the meeting, referring questions to chairman Lynn. Lynn said the three had objected to the length of the contract, preferring to "keep their options open."
"I feel like he's done a good job and he's earned a three-year contract," Lynn said.
Lynn said the next order of business will be the contract of Western Reserve Port Authority Executive Director Rose Ann DeLeon at the May meeting.
DeLeon, who handles economic development aspects of the port authority, is working under a six-month pact that expires June 6.
The contract calls for a $47,500 pay rate with incentives that allow her to earn bonuses for certain measurable achievements.