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Suffolk lawmakers approve expanded lease at Gabreski Airport

The Suffolk County Legislature Tuesday approved an expanded lease with an airport ground operator at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach that officials said will enable the county-owned facility to have a budget surplus for the first time.

Lawmakers voted unanimously for the amended lease with Sheltair, a Fort Lauderdale-based company that already runs services for airplanes and helicopters at the airport.

The company's footprint would increase from 16 acres to almost 23 acres, and its annual payment would increase by $200,000, to $393,000 a year.

The company also agreed to make $6.6 million in infrastructure improvements, including construction of a new hangar of as much as 26,000 feet within the next two years.

The agreement will create 33 construction jobs and 38 permanent jobs, according to airport manager Anthony Ceglio.

Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Southampton) said the county will bid out another 14-acre parcel for another fixed-base operator in the next few years so that there will be competition for services such as plane de-icing.

Republican county-executive candidate James O'Connor has criticized Sheltair, which received tax breaks from the county under the previous administration of County Executive Steve Levy, for giving $11,000 in campaign contributions to Bellone. He said it created the perception of a conflict of interest.

William McShane, Sheltair's vice president of business development, denied any conflict of interest.

Bellone Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider called O'Connor's criticism a "cheap political hit." Schneider said that although there was no competitive bidding for the lease of the new acreage, the county hired an aviation consultant who determined the payments by Sheltair reflected fair market value.

Schneider called the deal a "win-win" because it will create jobs and bring in new revenue for the county.

The county's general fund contributed more than $700,000 to the airport in 2014.

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