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Thursday, Sep 18, 2014
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Tampa airport’s board wants to increase Lopano’s compensation

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TAMPA -

The board that runs Tampa International Airport gave Chief Executive Joe Lopano two raises last year totaling $65,000. Last month, the board voted 3-1 to explore sweetening his contract even more.

The board released its proposed solution Tuesday: Add more than a half-million dollars to Lopano’s retirement fund if he stays for at least five more years.

The board will vote Thursday on a proposal to take an amount equal to a third of Lopano’s annual salary and add it to his retirement fund.

Lopano currently earns $315,000, meaning the additional amount put into his retirement would equal $105,000 in the first year.

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board said the contract amendment proposal followed negotiations to “ensure stability for the board and security for Mr. Lopano” in an item added Tuesday to the monthly meeting agenda.

The board convened a special session March 1 in the wake of news reports that Lopano could become a candidate to replace his former boss, Jeff Fegan, as head of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport when Fegan retires later this year.

Lopano said then he had not been recruited nor had he applied for the Texas job. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who serves on the authority board, angrily objected at the March 1 meeting to increasing Lopano’s contract. The mayor said Lopano is the right person for the job but must live up to his contract, which doesn’t expire until Jan. 1, 2016.

Other board members, though, were insistent that they needed to increase Lopano’s compensation or risk losing him.

The aviation authority did not release further details of the proposal Tuesday night.

Lopano received a $50,000 raise in January 2012, one year after he took over at Tampa International, and a $15,000 merit raise in October. He was paid $262,242 as an assistant to Fegan before coming to Tampa.

A February salary report showed Lopano’s base salary was $62,000 more than his counterpart at Orlando International Airport, which handles about twice as many passengers as Tampa International.

Lopano has drawn high marks in the board’s performance reviews. The energetic leader is popular with many local business people, who have invested their reputations in his promise to draw international flights and expand the airport’s economic development impact.

But despite creating the airport’s first economic incentive program for new flights, Lopano’s only international gain has been a weekly scheduled charter flight between Tampa and Zurich, Switzerland, at a cost of $750,000 in airport and community incentives.

Airport officials continue to recruit international flights to serve Europe and Latin America, but conservative airline planning amid the difficult international economy continues to challenge local efforts.

Tampa International uses airport user fees from airlines, concessions and expenditures of airport visitors, not taxpayer money to fund salaries and other operational expenses.


tjackovics@tampatrib.com

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