EDITORIAL: Grounding Air-1

— Helicopters are, apparently, a hard habit to quit.

The county legislators voted to defund the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office aviation unit, commonly known as Air One. But the helicopter will still fly as Sheriff Kevin Walsh takes aim at corporations, surrounding counties, private donations and any other willing entity to raise $595,000 to pay for fuel, pilots and operating costs of the helicopter.

Onondaga County is the only county in Upstate New York with a public safety helicopter, barring the 13 copters and five stations operated by the New York State Police. Other counties with cities of similar size, like Rochester in Monroe County, go without a chopper.

If they can go without — a city with a crime rate much higher than Syracuse, reeling in double the number of homicides than Syracuse — why can’t Onondaga County? We’re left wondering if the Air One debate is much ado about nothing.

But instead, it seems Onondaga County taxpayers may have footed the bill for years for a toy in the county. More than 1,000 calls were responded to by Air One, which is impressive. But were they all necessary?

We’re aware that 28 of those calls were medevacs, an emergency airlift for victims of namely car accidents. Mercy Flight, based in Canandaigua and with a second base in Marcellus, could have easily picked up those flights at no taxpayer expense. It’s a good model of the public and private sector melding together to create a necessary service. The not-for-profit provides a public service at no cost to the county. Each time Mercy Flight goes into the air, it doesn’t cost a dime for taxpayers, and it’s a quality service. Sometimes cheap and free are the better value.

The other calls — police work, car chases, finding lost hunters, locating wandering dementia patients, water rescues, helping at scenes of fires — are not any less important. The police work saves lives and ensures a more secure environment. But is what we are providing really necessary? Is it something that can’t be replicated or assisted by state police? We’re not police or aviation experts, but we think Air One is something we could do without.

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