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City committee recommends APD helicopter funding

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Albuquerque Police Department is one step closer to getting a new crime-fighting tool after members of the city’s Finance and Government Operations Committee on Monday made a “do pass” recommendation that the City Council appropriate $5.2 million to purchase a new state-of-the-art helicopter.

The recommendation vote was 4-1 with Councilors Ken Sanchez, Brad Winter, Don Harris and Cynthia Borrego voting for the measure. Councilor Diane Gibson voted in opposition to the recommendation.

Not all were on board, however, with councilors expressing concern about maintenance and equipment costs as well as the procurement process for selecting the right aircraft for Albuquerque’s high altitude and hot summer weather.

APD pilot Sgt. Will Taylor and Chief of Staff John Ross told councilors that equipment costs were part of the price tag, with fewer maintenance required on a new bird with new equipment and parts, at least for the first couple of years.

Ross told councilors the department would undertake the usual bidding process for the new helicopter with specific criteria to fit Albuquerque’s weather and altitude, although he did state that the department was interested in acquiring an Airbus H125 craft.

Winter, who voted for the recommendation, sounded like he was not entirely convinced on the idea of spending millions for a new bird.

“I guess I need to be sold on the idea that if we give $5 million more (for public safety), then buying a helicopter is going to make more of a difference than putting $5 million into other tools and equipment,” Winter said. “When this goes before the full council, I would really like someone to tell me how a helicopter is going to be the best thing we can do for $5 million to improve public safety.”

APD currently owns and flies a 17-year-old Eurocopter EC120B that department officials have said is not well suited for full operation anymore, especially during the warmer months.

Department officials have also said a new, more reliable aircraft is needed to find and arrest criminals in a safer manner than pursuit using police vehicles.

The committee also voted to recommend the council appropriate $3 million, which would allow the police department to seat a lateral class of 40 officers that would graduate in January.

Sanchez told the Journal that funding for the helicopter and for lateral class training would come from surplus funds for the city’s fiscal 2018 general fund.

Committee members also gave their blessing for an incentive package for TaskUs, which includes $2 million from the state’s Local Economic Development Act fund, $1 million from the city’s closing fund and an industrial revenue bond package that functions as a property tax break.

TaskUs company officials recently announced they will open an office in Downtown Albuquerque and hire 695 employees over five years.

The City Council is expected to consider the measures during an upcoming meeting.