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COLUMN: From the Legislature - Collaboration for sustaining Air One continues

— As I begin my first term in the Legislature, I am pleased to report that my colleagues and I have already instituted policy changes that will result in measurable improvements for County taxpayers. At our organizational meeting on Jan. 3, for example, we restructured the Legislature’s staff to create a $30,000 annual savings.

In February, my colleagues and I approved a new lease agreement for Alliance Bank Stadium that will reduce the County’s annual operating expenses by 50 percent. The new agreement features clearly-defined legal, financial and operational responsibilities between the CNY Baseball Club and Onondaga County. The new lease also includes a much-debated option to purchase during the first two years of the contract. If executed, the purchase option will eliminate what has historically been a $1 million annual expense for County taxpayers, not to mention exposure to future costs for major capital repairs. The Chiefs are an invaluable asset to our community and quality of life. However, your county government should leave the “business” of professional baseball to the professionals.

Air One has received a great deal of attention over the last few years. While many legislators believe the program has become too costly, few would argue its relevance to our community’s safety and well-being. The Sheriff’s Office has fought tirelessly to keep the program going over the last two years, primarily through a less-than ideal approach of leveraging the flexibility of a $70 million departmental budget. As a member of the Legislature’s Public Safety and Ways & Means Committees, my first two months have involved a great deal of time collaborating with the Sheriff’s Office to establish a more sustainable strategy. To its credit, the Air One program has recently earned Part 135 certification, which allows billing of insurance companies for medivac services. The Sheriff’s Office is also pursuing funding from neighboring counties for police and rescue mutual aid assistance. Cayuga, Oswego and Cortland counties have already expressed interest in entering into inter-municipal agreements to share our expense.

Air One will remain a work-in-progress over the next year or two, but I commend the Sheriff’s Office for its effort to make the program self-sustaining. I look forward to continued progress with this important program.

Brian May represents the first district in the Onondaga County Legislature, which includes the town of Lysander and the western portion of the town of Clay. To reach him, call 435-2070.

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