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County ready to fly with LifeStar?
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Effingham County commissioners approved a contract proposal to the operators of the LifeStar air ambulance, but whether it will fly with OmniFlight remains to be seen.

By a 4-1 vote, commissioners OK’d a revamped contract proposal for LifeStar to call Effingham County for five years.

The original deal called for a five-year deal, with renewals after each year.

But Commissioner Hubert Sapp, who voted against the proposal, wanted assurances the air ambulance would not leave Effingham County after the county had erected a building for the crew and laid down a landing pad.

“If they were sure of being here, why would they not sign a contract of five years?” he asked. “I’m just not comfortable doing it.”

County Administrator David Crawley said his discussions with David Herrin, the flight operations director for LifeStar, revealed that proposal may not be to the Texas-based OmniFlight’s liking.

“(He) didn’t seem to think that would move up the chain,” Crawley said.

LifeStar has been looking for a new home and approached Effingham about making its base there last year. The helicopter had been stationed at Memorial University Medical Center since its inception more than 20 years ago, but the hospital needed the landing pad and crew area for its own expansion.

Since that time, the helicopter has been flying out of Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport. But if a commercial flight is in the air, it can’t take off.

“I can’t see them moving after they get here,” said Commissioner Reggie Loper. “We’ve been stringing them along for a long time.”

Sapp also asked that a penalty clause be included so that if LifeStar moved before the five-year term was up they would pick up the remainder of the rent on the building. The building also is planned to house the county’s EMS once it’s built.

“There’s no need in having a contract if there are no penalty clauses and if they could leave at any time,” he said.

OmniFlight officials agreed to have their equipment subject to property tax, and estimates are that the helicopter is worth between $2.5 million and $3 million. There also will be a fuel surcharge for the helicopter and rent on LifeStar’s share of the building is expected to be $1,000 a month.

Under the previous contract proposal, LifeStar was liable for a year’s rent if it opted out of the original deal, which was five year-long terms.

Crawley estimated it would take eight years of LifeStar being there for the rent to pay for the cost of the building.

But that figure did not include the potential property taxes on the equipment or the fuel surcharge.

“That building can be rehabbed and used for another purpose in less than a year,” he remarked on LifeStar opting out of any deal. “The building will not sit there unused, with the demand we have on our facilities now.”

One of LifeStar’s reasons for wanting to come to Effingham is it is centrally located to its service area.

“You can’t put a dollar amount on a life, either,” Loper said.