The Onondaga County Sheriff's helicopter has been under scrutiny for years. To keep the Air 1 helicopter flying but reduce the nearly $600,000 dollar yearly cost for taxpayers, Onondaga County Sheriff Kevin Walsh agreed to look for outside funding. The Sheriff agreed to seek funding partly from billing for medical transports, partly from contributions from surrounding counties and also from a not for profit foundation that could solicit donations. The Air One Foundation has brought in as money but it has not yet registered as a charity. Now CNYCentral has learned the New York State Attorney General's office is looking into a complaint regarding the foundation's charity status.
Onondaga County Comptroller Bob Antonacci helped set up the foundation as a volunteer and on his own time. Antonacci said they haven't been required to register as a charity since less than $25,000 in donations have come in. He added the foundation was aware of the issue and will fill out the paperwork to register as a charity very soon.
"You coming in today has put it back on the to do list or the top of the to do list but we were always aware of it and as I said to the sheriff and his group - go forth and do good. go raise some money and we'll keep doing the paperwork as necessary," said Antonacci on Thursday.
Antonacci acknowledged that the foundation will take the necessary steps to be in compliance with the Attorney General's office but it will also need to step up fundraising efforts to keep the county legislature happy.
"It's going to take some time for them to raise money. I can't wait for us to get over the $25,000 limit because that means they're reducing the costs to the taxpayer," said Antonacci.
A vote to sell the Air 1 helicopter in the Onondaga County Legislature failed late last year. Many legislators support the foundation's efforts but acknowledge that $25,000 dollars is a drop in the bucket considering what it costs to keep air one flying.
"On the money side, we're going to need contributions from other counties. we're going to need part 135 (billing for medical transports) to be a success and we're going to need the foundation to be a success," said republican legislator Kevin Holmquist.
Antonacci also said Onondaga County is exploring the possibility of selling naming rights to the Air 1 helicopter. The county has sold naming rights to Alliance Bank Stadium and supports a proposal in Albany that would allow governments to expand naming rights.
Antonacci acknowledged that putting the name of a private business on the Sheriff's helicopter could be controversial but could help keep it flying.