Patrice Dougan

Patrice Dougan is a NZME. News Service reporter based in Auckland.

Chopper row: Mayor says funding board should be scrapped

Financial backing for the rescue helicopter is set to be slashed by $450,000. Photo / APN
Financial backing for the rescue helicopter is set to be slashed by $450,000. Photo / APN

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has called for a funding board at the centre of a row with the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust to be scrapped following its recommendation to slash funding for the trust by half.

Mr Brown said a "more consistent and fair approach is needed'', and said he wanted to work with central Government to develop a "smarter'' system to allocate funding.

It follows the decision by the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board earlier this week to cut the helicopter trust's budget from $900,000 to $450,000 for the 2014/15 year.

"ARAF was designed to overcome the problem associated with eight separate councils funding a number of different region-wide amenities. With one council, this is no longer needed and the model has well and truly outlived its purpose,'' Mr Brown said today.

Concerns raised by the helicopter trust this week highlighted the inherent problems with the funding model, he said.

"It is difficult for Aucklanders to make sense of a decision to cut the rescue helicopter's funding by 70 per cent in the last five years, while increasing funding for the nine other regional organisations it funds by between 30 and 150 per cent,'' the mayor said.

"I think we have to be upfront and say this funding model is not working for Auckland and it's time that council worked with central government to fix it.''

The first step, he said, would be to work with Auckland councillors to come up with a plan to fill the $900,000 gap in the trust's finances.

"This would be a much more sensible approach than having ratepayers continue to fund the legal costs associated with defending ARAF's decisions - which could be up to $1 million over the next two years - and I have communicated my expectation to the trust that it should drop its plans for further litigation.''

The trust has vowed to fight the funding decisions in court. It has already launched legal action against this week's recommendation, following a judicial review hearing last week over last year's decision to cut funding from $1.2 million to $900,000.

Mr Brown said funding for the 10 organisations which receive grants from the funding board - which include the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra and the Auckland Theatre Company - should be brought under the umbrella of the council.

The ongoing row between the funding board and the helicopter trust has also sparked a request from the trust to the Auditor-General to investigate the board amid allegations it receives free tickets to arts events without publicly declaring them.

The Government would be "open to exploring whether legislative change is required'' for funding such amenities, Associate Minister of Local Government Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga said.

There were issues surrounding the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Act, now the supercity operates under one council, he said.

"Questions have been raised whether there's a need for this model.''

Mr Lotu-Iiga said: "I am pleased that the Auckland Council is seeking to resolve funding issues for the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust in the next financial year.

"This is an important local issue and completely appropriate that the mayor and council determine a solution.''

- APNZ

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