COUNTY: Fly car costs need closer look

Chautauqua County’s fly car system was originally pitched by consultants as a break-even proposition.

We’re not sure, though, that even the consultants who studied the county’s emergency medical services issues thought there would be such high demand for the service throughout the county.

The fly car system has proven to be a success in all ways but one — paying for it. Calls have increased from 1,851 in 2018 to 5,576 in 2021. At the same time, the program has grown to meet that need from three part-time employees and four part-time employees to 18 full-time paramedics, seven part-time paramedics and 13 casual paramedics who aren’t regularly scheduled but fill in so that the system can operate efficiently when someone needs a day off.

In our opinion, the fly car system is a different animal than some other county services that we have pushed to end. Commercial air service at the Chautauqua County Airport in Jamestown has proven itself not to be viable, with ridership dwindling year after year. Owning a nursing home was better done by the private sector, as we have seen in the years since the county sold the Chautauqua County Home, when the county stopped subsidizing the home and the home’s quality went up.

The fly car system is different. The increasing call volume shows this is a service the public needs to have. That doesn’t mean its deficits are sustainable in the long run. In 2019, the county subsidized the fly car system to the tune of $467,239. That subsidy has grown to $1,171,390 in 2021. County officials need to recoup more revenue to bring the county subsidy down, but we can’t disagree with County Executive PJ Wendel’s statement of the program’s importance.

“What is the value you’re going to put on a human life?” Wendel told The Post-Journal and OBSERVER. There’s myriads of people who have been saved by the program.”

The fly car program comes with a degree of sticker shock when you look at the cost and program’s use. But it’s a program that is, frankly, too important in every corner of Chautauqua County to fail.


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