Sheriff Tom Knight cited the county's increasing population as a reason for the second helicopter, which will cost $3.45 million.
The Sarasota County Commission agreed to use $3.45 million in impact fees to purchase a second helicopter for the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Tom Knight explained on May 9 the funding would come from justice facilities impact fees — or charges the county collects on new developments to account for the increased level of service the growth requires.
“This process is a longstanding county strategy of having growth pay its own way,” Knight said.
The Sheriff’s Office got its first helicopter — a Bell 407 turbine-powered helicopter — new in 2005, for about $2 million. At that time, there were 368,000 permanent citizens in the county. The helicopter responded to 264 calls for service and was in the air for 687 flight hours that year.
In 2017, there were 415,000 citizens in Sarasota County. The helicopter assisted on 1,837 calls for service, and was in the air for 509 flight hours. For 60 days, Air-1 was unavailable for maintenance reasons, which equals an estimated 321 missed calls for service. That is what the Sheriff’s Office is hoping to fix with a second helicopter.
“We’ll have a helicopter ready to go for this county all the time,” Knight said.
The unarmed helicopter works as a patrol car in the sky and is used to help find missing persons, fleeing suspects or stolen property, and assists other agencies including the fire department.
The helicopter the Sheriff’s Office is looking at is a pre-owned 2012 Bell 407GX helicopter, an improved version of department's existing craft, for $3.075 million, including training for three pilots. Extra equipment for the helicopter will cost $376,500. The Sheriff’s operational budget will increase by $42,000 to cover maintenance costs.
Commissioner Nancy Detert had concerns about medium-sized Sarasota County having two helicopters, but the Sheriff’s Office’s research showed that most surrounding counties had more than one. For example, Manatee County has two helicopters, and Charlotte County has five helicopters and one airplane.
“Without question, public safety is our ultimate responsibility of this board,” Commissioner Mike Moran said. “In my opinion [Air-1] has proven over and over to be an asset to the community.”
The commission unanimously agreed to allocate the funding for the aircraft.