Pennsylvania Airport Raises are Set

PITTSTON TWP. - Airport employees are in line for raises this year under the operating budget that shows an anticipated loss of more than $85,000.

The budget approved last month by the commissioners of Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, which own the airport, shows salary increases for all departments.

Firefighters, mechanics, maintenance, custodial and housekeeping employees represented by the Public Service Employees Union Local 1300 are guaranteed hourly increases under a five-year contract that runs until January 2010.

Members of the administration received raises in line with the federal cost-of-living allowance, said Luzerne County Commissioner and airport board vice chairman Todd Vonderheid.

"Barry (Centini) made a recommendation somewhere around 4 percent," said Vonderheid on Monday.

Centini, the airport director, told a reporter to submit a written request for the administration increases. He said he would provide the information at later date.

The department's allocations were based on merit and performance with some people getting more than others. The raises were given to bring the wages and salaries in line with other administrators at airports that have a similar annual passenger count of around 400,000, he explained.

The airport has a senior staff that is "woefully underpaid" and the raises are a step in the right direction, Vonderheid added. By upping the salaries and wages now, the airport will not have to make a drastic increase later in order to attract a qualified candidate to replace a retiring staff member.

The vice chairman echoed the comments of fellow board chairman Lackawanna County Commissioner Robert Cordaro, who called for the raises in January.

"For the other board members who have not been aware, I think you know that our, particularly, senior staff is underpaid in terms of the industry and hoping that the new budget reflects some of that and gets us to another level ... ," Cordaro said at the board Jan. 19 meeting.

"Commissioner Cordaro would have liked to do more. I would have liked to do more," Vonderheid said.

Of all the departments, the administration has the largest payroll. Salaries and wages in 2005 were $495,620. This year that will increase 15.05 percent to $570,200. The administrative staff grew by two positions to 13 members - director of finance and administration and assistant superintendent.

Vonderheid defended the increases in light of the projected loss. "The airport is doing incredibly well," he said.

The budget shows revenues of $4,569,351 and expenses of $5,340,981. But after adjustments that include more than $1 million in revenues from income and a passenger facility charge and $400,000 in marketing and new terminal expenses, the deficit drops to $85,630.

The new $36 million terminal is expected to be completed by the end of the month and open later in the spring.

Whether all of the airlines currently serving the airport move their operations to the new building remains to be seen.

Hooters Air is ending flights this week to the Florida destinations of Fort Lauderdale and St. Petersburg/Clearwater.

Centini said high fuel prices and declining ridership are likely behind the service cutbacks.

He said Hooters has not offered an explanation yet.

In the meantime, the low-cost airline plans to begin service to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and continue flying to Orlando.

The airport agreed to an 11-month contract for service to Orlando that runs through September. The other destinations were additions. The airport used federal and county monies totaling $325,000 to attract Hooters.

"The end result of whether any specific airline makes it is not a verdict on the subsidy program," said Vonderheid.

Even if Hooters discontinues all flights, other airlines could step in. The commissioner said Centini has been in contact with three or four other carriers.

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