Three politicians, state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy; state Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport; and state Sen. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, are working to ensure that an aviation patrol unit returns to the Williamsport Regional Airport. While all three men agree that a state police helicopter is essential for the region, they don't agree on how that goal should best be accomplished.
Earlier this month, Mirabito filed an amendment to the state fiscal code. If accepted, the amendment will direct state police to have an operating aviation patrol unit out of the Williamsport Regional Airport, or risk losing government funding.
"The amendment is pretty simple. By talking with attorneys we determined that the language should center around getting the aviation unit back to Williamsport," Mirabito said.
Everett, supports the amendment but believes that the effort put forth by himself and Yaw may have made the amendment redundant. Everett explained that he and Yaw have been working directly with members of the appropriation committee staff, who are drafting the fiscal code, and that Mirabito may not have been aware of their efforts.
"I think the amendment isn't a bad idea. I think we should all do what we can," Everett said.
It won't hurt to have this amendment ready. If our language gets pulled out of the budget as time goes on, this amendment can put it back in," he added.
According to Everett, relocating the helicopter to Hazleton was not a budget-driven decision.
"The state police have money in their budget to do this. They told me one time... that it actually cost more money to operate the helicopter out of State College because they've never had one there before and didn't have the facilities already in place," Everett said.
Everett added that he has yet to receive a satisfactory explanation from state police regarding their recent decision to move the aviation unit from Williamsport to State College.
"It doesn't appear that there were any aviators involved. It came down to bureaucracy - a bunch of guys who know nothing about helicopters were the ones who decided where to put the helicopter," Everett said.
Yaw, who stated that he has been working on this problem longer than anyone else, expressed frustration with the amendment.
"This is an amendment to a bill that will already contain what this amendment is trying to add. That was a result of the work that we did by talking to people, finding out what the issues were, and working behind the scenes to get results," Yaw said.
"The work we've been doing has been done quietly, by going to the people who actually make the decisions. I really don't think this is the time to fully disclose all of it to the media," he added.
According to Yaw, returning the aviation unit isn't as important as ensuring that one exists.
"I don't care if the helicopter gets moved back or not, but based on what we've heard from people, it's clear that an aviation patrol unit is essential for this area," Yaw said.
"But this amendment by Representative Mirabito has been done prematurely. This is not the way that budget issues are resolved," he added.