Future of Air 1 in the air

Onondaga County legislators seemed unimpressed at a progress report on finding other ways to keep Air 1 flying.

For 35 years, the Onondaga County Sheriff Department's Air 1 helicopter has been part of public safety, but this year the chopper is on a 6 month probation.

On Tuesday, Sheriff's Department representatives went before the Onondaga County Legislature's Ways and Means Committee hoping for support to fund the helicopter for the rest of the year. Chief John Balloni told lawmakers, "In my opinion, people will die...simple as that."

Last year, the legislature decided to fund Air 1 for only 6 months. It withheld $342,000 as an incentive for the Sheriff's Department to cut costs, get an FAA license to charge outside counties for the services of the helicopter and to establish a not-for-profit to raise private donations to keep it flying.

Captain James Rinella told legislators the Sheriff is making progress.

" We're fast tracking this as much as we can but it's a process. Air 1 has been around for 35 years. This is a vital public safety tool and I think one of the primary roles of government is public safety."

The Sheriff's Department provided legislators with many letters of support for the helicopter including Upstate Medical Center, but legislator Rich Lesniak wanted to see more progress.

" We got a letter yeah... did we ask them for money?" Lesniak asked Chief Balloni.

The Sheriff's Department wants the legislature to release $362,000 to see it through the end of the year, but legislature Chairman James Rhinehart says he would oppose it.

"10 years ago the sheriff's d epartment budget was $38 million, and now it's pushing $65 million a year...At some point we have to say no," Rhinehart told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon.

What do you think? Should the legislature fund the helicopter for another 6 months?