Wayne Thompson

Wayne Thompson is a NZ Herald reporter.

Self-help backfires for rescue helicopter

Council contribution faces 25 per cent cut because service so good at raising own funds

The $300,000 cut is in the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board's draft plan for 2013-14.
The $300,000 cut is in the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board's draft plan for 2013-14.

Auckland's rescue helicopter service faces a 25 per cent cut in ratepayer contributions - because it's so successful at helping itself.

The $300,000 cut is in the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board's draft plan for 2013-14.

The board collects from Auckland Council a compulsory levy on ratepayers towards running 10 specified amenities, including arts bodies and rescue services.

The Westpac rescue service, which is running two helicopters in Auckland and the Coromandel this summer, is the only one facing a cut.

In the coming year, the board proposes a levy of $14 million, or 2.5 per cent more than this year.

However, board chairman Vern Walsh said that for the board's fourth year a new funding principle meant total funding should be in keeping with the council's proposed rates rise, which is 2.9 per cent for 2013-14.

Mr Walsh said the board was fulfilling its obligations to provide adequate and sustainable funding.

The board said the provisional grant for the Auckland Regional Rescue Helicopter Trust was $900,000 or $300,000 less than in 2012-13.

It congratulated the trust on "their excellent and sustainable business model". The smaller grant reflected the intention of the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Act because the trust had made significant efforts to get support and funding from alternative sources.

The trust had managed to speed up debt repayment and place orders for extra aircraft while keeping a sound financial position.

Trust chairman Murray Bolton said it was the second time the funding board had cut its grant from the original $1.5 million and the $900,000 allocated was a tenth of annual operating expenses.

"We think it's ridiculous. However, it's not over yet."

Mr Bolton, who was a founding trustee 22 years ago, said the board's explanation that the trust could raise money elsewhere was unrealistic.

"We work hard, do the best we can, but it's always a struggle.

"Our operating costs have increased significantly yet these guys keep cutting us back."

Trust CEO Bob Parkinson said the board was penalising the trust for working hard to achieve its goals.

He said half the operating costs were funded by crown agencies - the ACC and Ministry of Health. The rest came from the funding board and corporate and community fundraising. The service had run for 40 years and 800 missions were flown a year.

In response to demand, a second helicopter was introduced to the service in August 2010.

- NZ Herald

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