Florida Airport Board Wants to Lease Land to Sheriff

The Airport Advisory Board initiated talks Wednesday about leasing land to the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, with hopes to entice the law enforcement agency to keep its aviation rescue operation in Venice.

Board members voiced support for a 25-year lease with the agency. They stopped short of approving an agreement, however, until a contract draft is complete.

Board member Susan Balsinger noted the Venice Police Department's benefit of having sheriff's officials close by to assist in search and rescue efforts.

Under the proposal, the Sheriff's Office would pay $532 a month for a 1/2-acre parcel where it would build a 70-by-100-foot hangar. The facility would house a helicopter and a twin-engine airplane used for transportation, surveillance and search and rescue.

Only sheriff's equipment related to its aviation unit could be stored on the lot.

The Sheriff's Office sublets a hangar from another airport occupant.

City Council member John Simmonds hoped for a vote on the proposed lease. He said he feared a delay would be a disadvantage to the city.

"The sheriff's department's presence is really an advantage to the city," Simmonds said. "They are available for search over the beach if we are missing a swimmer or if a boat capsizes. I don't want to encourage the sheriff to look elsewhere."

An approval for the advisory board would not seal the deal, however. The City Council and the Sheriff's Office also must sign off on the contract.

An initial lease has been drafted, but some blanks still need to be filled, said Airport Manager Fred Watts. He will likely bring the final version to the advisory board for approval at its next monthly meeting.



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