Rescue helicopter trust adamant Auckland mayor pledged to fill $900,000 funding gap

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has voted to slash funding to the Westpac rescue helicopter service, three days after assuring the service he would sort out a $900,000 funding gap.

Mr Brown's position on the rescue package yesterday varied from telling the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust he will plug the funding gap to being less sure with councillors.

The helicopter trust is adamant that on Monday Mr Brown reiterated a pledge he would give them the sum they have been refused by an independent council body. In exchange, the trust committed to drop legal action against the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board (ARAFB).

Yesterday, Mr Brown voted for the the funding board's levy of $14.3 million this year, which includes cutting funding for the helicopter trust from $900,000 to $450,000.


He said he had no real option but to accept the recommendations of the funding board given the legislation which set it up to allocate ratepayers' money to 10 amenities.

Later at a budget committee, Mr Brown was asked by councillor Cameron Brewer about his pledge to "remedy the immediate $900,000 funding gap" in this year's budget.

Instead of giving a firm commitment, the mayor said the matter would sit beside every other community funding request in the draft budget, which is $16 million in the red.

Questioned further, Mr Brown could not tell councillors if he or the trust would be making an application for a $900,000 rescue package, which would require a council majority in May to go through.

The mayor has also publicly stated the trust - whose combined balance sheet last year showed a $3.4 million surplus - would need to make a funding case to the council.

The amenities board has reduced the helicopter trust's grant by $750,000 over the past two years. The trust sought $1.35 million to maintain levels of service this year, but the board allocated $450,000.

Asked about the mayor's position, a spokesman said Mr Brown was committed to review the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board and to work with the council to remedy the helicopter trust's funding gap through the annual plan process.

"Today's report merely confirmed ARAFB's funding recommendations and given the current legislation, councillors had no real option but to accept those recommendations," the spokesman said.