Monday, September 24, 2018
Business

Audit of Tampa airport raises questions about spending and salaries

TAMPA — A much-anticipated audit of Tampa International Airport unearthed misuse of a state grant and raised questions about the awarding and oversight of contracts related to the airport’s $2.3 billion expansion, the largest public works project in Tampa history.

The report from the state auditor general, which is not finalized but was obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, also found questionable justification for a $3.5 million public arts fund and for raises given to the airport’s top executives, which in some cases were as high as 10 percent.

However, the audit did not conclude there was "public corruption" at the airport — words used earlier this year by state Sen. Tom Lee when he demanded a review of the airport’s finances. Nor did it find that the airport had a problem paying off its debt obligations, which the Thonotosassa Republican also suggested.

Most of the audit findings called for tweaks to airport policies to improve transparency or incorporate best practices.

Airport spokeswoman Janet Zink said administrators have acted on some findings and are reviewing others. They have until Dec. 29 to respond.

"Overall, the audit shows we’ve been good stewards of the state’s investment in the airport expansion," Zink said.

When completed in 2023, the airport expansion project will include a new $323 million rental car facility, a new people mover to the main terminal and eventually more gates.

The audit included 12 findings, several related to the expansion:

• Twice, the airport authority board didn’t award contracts to the highest-scoring bidder. In each case, the auditor said the board’s reasoning ran counter to criteria it set up to rate each bid.

• A review of a $194 million Florida Department of Transportation grant reserved for capital improvements found that the state erroneously reimbursed the airport for furniture. The revelation sparked a larger review by the airport that led to the return of $438,000 in state funds.

•Airport management didn’t check if its subcontractors were licensed. Auditors acknowledged, however, that the airport required the lead contractor to only hire licensed subcontractors and all of the subcontractors checked were licensed.

The scope of the review sometimes extended beyond the planned expansion to the airport’s day-to-day operations.

For example, the report questioned how airport leaders rationalized five-figure raises that six executive team members received in 2014. The raises put the annual salaries of five vice presidents above $200,000.

Airport CEO Joe Lopano said in a 2014 memo that a study of executive salary ranges at TIA were "below the midpoint of the market."

But auditors said the study, which was not disclosed to the board, only included salary data from one peer airport. The rest of the information came from businesses in other industries.

In a draft response to the audit provided to the Times, airport management pushed back, noting that "market data is a key part of benchmarking" salaries.

The state report also highlighted $3.5 million set aside for the airport’s Public Art Program, a fund to commission artwork displayed in terminals and at gates. Since 2012, the airport has paid artists $572,320 for an LED tiles and metal display, $300,000 for a 14-foot hanging structure and $297,000 for a 30-foot-by-20-foot tapestry.

According to the audit, "authority records did not always demonstrate the legal authority, or reasonableness of, artwork expenditures."

Lee shocked the Tampa Bay legislative delegation in April when he called for an airport audit on the Senate floor. Two fellow Republicans from the region, Sens. Jack Latvala of Clearwater and Dana Young of Tampa, immediately came to the defense of the airport, one of the region’s top economic engines.

But the audit won support from House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, and was ultimately included in the final budget.

Aides to Young and Corcoran said the lawmakers would have to read the report’s findings before commenting. Lee did not respond to a phone call.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist called the findings "minor."

"The bottom line is the airport has been good stewards of its money," said Crist, who sits on the aviation authority board. "It’s a clean bill of health.’’

Contact Steve Contorno at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433. Follow @scontorno.

Comments
FEMA rolling out new flood zone maps for Tampa Bay counties

FEMA rolling out new flood zone maps for Tampa Bay counties

Thousands of Tampa Bay-area property owners could soon find themselves with new flood zone designations on their homes and businesses.The Federal Emergency Management Agency has completed a years-long study to update flood zone maps in Hillsborough, ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Rep. Charlie Crist urges federal consumer watchdog to investigate Marlin Financial

Rep. Charlie Crist urges federal consumer watchdog to investigate Marlin Financial

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is calling for the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to investigate Marlin Financial, saying he was "disturbed" by a recent Tampa Bay Times’ investigation into the online auto finance company. In a letter Tuesday af...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Dunkin' to drop Donuts, change name in January

Dunkin' to drop Donuts, change name in January

Dunkin' is dropping the donuts — from its name, anyway.Doughnuts are still on the menu, but the company is renaming itself "Dunkin'" to reflect its increasing emphasis on coffee and other drinks.The change will officially take place ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Struggling against Red Tide, a Redington Beach liquor store is too small to qualify for local aid

Struggling against Red Tide, a Redington Beach liquor store is too small to qualify for local aid

REDINGTON BEACH — Mark Wilson hasn’t had a customer for hours.As the only liquor store on his stretch of Pinellas County beaches, Wilson is used to a steady stream of tourists from the nearby condos and hotels. Other beachfront businesses affected by...
Published: 09/25/18
Weight Watchers slims its name down to WW

Weight Watchers slims its name down to WW

Weight Watchers is its dropping its brand name in exchange for something slimmer: "WW." The company says the new logo - coupled with the tagline "Wellness that Works" -- puts an emphasis on overall health and well being, with less...
Published: 09/24/18
Study: Some Tampa Bay neighborhoods among quickest selling in the state

Study: Some Tampa Bay neighborhoods among quickest selling in the state

Tampa Bay sounds like a home seller’s dream market — even compared to other locales statewide. According to a recent study by SmartAsset, four of the top 10 easiest places to sell a home in Florida are in the bay area. Northern Hillsborough County ac...
Published: 09/24/18
Lower demand brings slight dip in gas prices across state, Tampa Bay

Lower demand brings slight dip in gas prices across state, Tampa Bay

Just in time for fall, pump prices are finally declining. Gas prices in Florida averaged $2.72 per gallon Monday, down from $2.74 per gallon a week ago, according to AAA, The Auto Club Group. Tampa Bay prices were even lower at $2.63 per gallon, down...
Published: 09/24/18
SiriusXM to buy Pandora for $3.5 Billion in bid to expand reach

SiriusXM to buy Pandora for $3.5 Billion in bid to expand reach

Satellite radio provider Sirius XM said Monday that it would acquire music streaming service Pandora Media for $3.5 billion in a bid to corral listeners who do not want to pay for premium channels.Pandora rose to success by providing tailored radio s...
Published: 09/24/18
Jeff Vinik invests in gaming headset maker boosted by Fortnite’s popularity

Jeff Vinik invests in gaming headset maker boosted by Fortnite’s popularity

TAMPA — As a mutual fund wonder-boy, hedge fund manager and real estate investor, Jeff Vinik has long displayed a sense for knowing when to put money into the next big thing, and his latest bet on e-sports may be no different.Vink recently bought nea...
Published: 09/24/18
Hernando Business Digest for Sept. 28

Hernando Business Digest for Sept. 28

BrieflyEMPLOYERS NEEDED FOR JOB FAIR: Pasco-Hernando State College, CareerSource Pasco Hernando, the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce and Hernando County Office of Economic Development are seeking employers to participate in the Open for A...
Published: 09/24/18