While I have stated that I don't believe it fiscally prudent to tie an ongoing expense, such as the helicopter purchase, to a temporary or unstable funding source, I have also said I have great admiration for the Police Air Support Unit and the job they do. Most of that has been through the use of the Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter, but they have also expended a great amount of their time, much of it personal time, to research a viable helicopter program for the city.
In our council packets received this week, Assistant Chief Steve Dye presented an alternative helicopter option. As stated in the Dallas Morning News article mentioned earlier, the greatest immediate concern with the helicopter program is how it would be funded and concern has been expressed against purchasing a major asset with a balloon payment on the end.
Chief Dye's memo proposes considering a used helicopter with a low number of flight hours. His department has located such a machine, twelve years old but with only 1500 hours flight time. It would cost about one-third of the new helicopter already purchased but not delivered. It would be cheaper to operate because insurance and fuel costs would be less. Debt service would be somewhat higher even for a cheaper machine because most of the debt would not be shifted to a balloon payment on the end.
Projected annual costs, not counting flight personnel, would be $691,383 compared to $732,429. The annual cost is not so different but eliminating the balloon payment necessary at the end of the current program would be significant. Flight personnel aren't included in the calculation because they are already employed within the department and will be with the department whether a helicopter is purchased or not.
I don't see this proposal having much affect on the current discussion of using SafeLight funds for the program but it should be part of the budget discussions that will soon be underway.
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