Onondaga County Legislature votes to cut all funding for Air-1 helicopter

Onondaga County Legislators cut more than $5.5 million from County Executive Joanie Mahoney's proposed 2012 budget on Tuesday night.

Property taxes in most Onondaga County towns and villages will go down but taxes in some towns are going up do to the new sales tax revenue sharing formula. In the Town of Camillus, county taxes on a $100,000 home would drop to $598 from $626. County taxes on a $100,000 home in Van Buren would also from from $632 to $527. The towns of Clay and Salina would see some of the largest increases. County property taxes on a $100,000 home in Clay would go from $498 to $573. In Salina, they would go from $484 to $540.

Lawmakers also approved a plan to borrow $5.2 million dollars for renovations to the Central Library in Downtown Syracuse. Legislators also voted to keep $404,465 instead of sending it to the Cultural Recourses Council for spending on local arts programs. Several legislators said they had been contacted by representatives for Symphony Syracuse and the Syracuse Philharmonic and it wasn't clear which one would move forward as Syracuse's next symphony. Lawmakers said they wanted to hold onto the money until the apparent competition between the two groups was cleared up.

The amendments made by the Onondaga County Legislature to the 2012 budget were not kind to the Sheriff's garages. Instead of replacing 53 older patrol cars, the sheriff only got money for 20. Sheriff Kevin Walsh also lost all county funding for his most visible - and most expensive - vehicle.

Funding for the Air-1 helicopter has been in doubt for several years before but now the sheriff will have to come up with the $595,000 annual operating budget by other means. Air-1 now has a foundation for fundraising purposes and the sheriff is also looking for grants. The sheriff's office is also pursuing approval from the FAA to bill for medical transports. Legislators said medical billing could bring in up to two hundred thousand dollars a year if the Sheriff can bill insurance companies.

Onondaga County Legislature Chairman James Rhinehart said Air-1 is "the Cadillac" of police helicopters, and not sustainable long term.

"Where do we go with this? where does it stop? I think this legislature needs to set a direction that we need to get back to a basic level of service," said Rhinehart.

Several legislators argued that the helicopter is a valuable life saving tool that county residents deserve and need. Democrat Sam Laguzza said he didn't understand how $200,000 for a new scoreboard at Alliance Bank stadium is more important than a police helicopter.

Sheriff Walsh said he was surprised by the vote to cut funding. Walsh was also concerned that the negative speeches made by county legislators could hurt private fundraising efforts.

"It's going to be very difficult to convince people to come up with the money to fund the helicopter if the legislature is saying, we aren't going to fund it," said Walsh.

Walsh said that Air-1 will continue to fly as he and his staff push forward with fundraising efforts.