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County Purchase of Helicopter Hangar Saved Taxpayers More Than $1 Million

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy

The office of County Executive Levy issued this release:

Newsday’s article on Suffolk County’s purchase of a helicopter hangar in Westhampton gave the false impression to the reading public that the county wasted $570,000—when in fact the county taxpayers were saved over a million dollars and the county was able to acquire twice the size for half the cost over the original project.

The article did not state that the reasons the county moved from construction to purchase were that:

1.)    a grant promised to assist in construction was put on hold by the State of New York;

2.)    it was determined that due to a soft real estate market for hangar space, it would be more cost-efficient to purchase rather than construct.

The Levy administration undertook a series of steps that ultimately resulted in the county acquiring twice the envisioned hangar space, for considerably less than the cost of construction.

The prior administration and Legislature originally proposed a concrete and steel hangar be constructed for $2.7 million.

County Executive Steve Levy, upon taking office, found this to be too expensive and revised the project to a 6,400-sq-foot $1.8 million stress membrane structure, with a state grant funding a portion of construction.

After the initial stages had begun for the stress membrane structure, New York State informed Suffolk County that the construction grant it had promised would not be delivered.

Faced with the county having to pay the entire $1.8 million cost, the Levy administration – in a soft real estate market for hangar space – negotiated the purchase of the 12,300 sq-ft facility it had been renting at a purchase price of $975,000.

In the end, the county was able to acquire twice the amount of hangar space for half the cost of the $1.8 million stress membrane and considerably less than the original $2.7 million plan. Even with the approximately $500,000 expended on the construction option, the purchase price is still less than construction.

The additional hangar space gives Suffolk the ability to realize revenue either through leasing that space, or by occupying that space and eliminating leases at other facilities.

The state has informed the county that grant funding is available to reimburse part of the purchase price.

The audit requested by Legislator Ed Romaine looks at the county’s actions on the hangar in hindsight and in a vacuum, not accounting for the changing circumstances as construction proceeded. Had Legislator Romaine been successful in stopping the acquisition – which was approved by a majority of the Legislature – the county would have been stuck with a $1.8 million price tag and a facility half the size of what it ultimately acquired.

We believe it important that the media look at all these facts in the proper context, and recognize that the county acquired twice the space it had planned to build, at less cost.

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