Sunday, February 26, 2012

NEW YORK: Oswego County to pay $10,000 for service from Onondaga County sheriff's rescue helicopter

Syracuse, N.Y. -- State law requires Onondaga County to send its helicopter to neighboring counties when there’s an emergency. But those counties are not obligated to pay for the service, which costs the county an estimated $30,000 a year.

Now Onondaga County Sheriff Kevin Walsh and the county legislators are asking the other counties to pay up.

The sheriff has been looking for other ways to pay for the helicopter, which costs $595,000 a year, since last year. That’s when legislators and County Executive Joanie Mahoney decided not to give him money for the helicopter, called Air 1. If the sheriff wants to keep such an expensive operation running, he’d have to find the money, himself, they said.

“We’re hoping other counties will see the value in making sure that we are able to continue to come,” Walsh said.

His department also has set up a nonprofit foundation and raised $50,000 through that. And it plans to raise about a third of the budget this year by charging for medical transportation. The department received a special FAA license last month so it can charge patients for medical transportation. But it still needs another piece of paperwork from the state Department of Health before it can begin billing, Walsh said.

He’s also looking into the idea of selling the helicopter’s naming rights.

Right now, Air 1 is out of service for about six weeks while its engine is being overhauled. That will cost between $300,000 and $400,000. The county is using seized drug money to pay that bill, Walsh said.

Oswego County Sheriff Reuel A. Todd said his county doesn’t want to see the helicopter disappear, so he asked legislators to commit $10,000 a year. The estimated cost of rescue calls to Oswego County was $8,966 a year for about 13 trips.

“I really feel that we need it,” Todd said. He said Thursday’s rescue of a man and dog who fell through the ice on Oneida Lake could easily have turned into a situation where they needed the Air 1 to pull the man out.

Oswego County will be the first county to have a contract with Onondaga County for Air 1. Cayuga County has been giving the county $5,000 a year for the past 10 years without an agreement, Walsh said. The money had been for the different kinds of mutual aid Onondaga County gives to Cayuga County. Now, Walsh said, that money will go specifically to fund Air 1.

Walsh said he’s spoken with the sheriffs and emergency managers for the 13 counties that call Air-1 into use, asking them for help. He’s uncertain how many will be able to give money to Onondaga County. They have to ask their legislatures and county executives for the cash.

The Onondaga County Legislature will discuss the Oswego County contract Monday during its Ways and Means committee meeting. Legislator Kevin Holmquist, head of the county legislature’s public safety committee, said the county is working on minor details of the Oswego contract so it likely won’t be finished this month.

He said the money Oswego and other counties pay will probably be held in escrow accounts. That way, the payments could be rolled over to use the following year if the neighboring counties don’t use Air 1’s services as much as expected.

“We’re not looking to make money off this,” Holmquist said.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.