Councils decline funding rescue chopper

    The Otago Regional Rescue Helicopter services Otago, Southern Lakes and Southland. Photo: File

    TWO Southland councils have turned down a plea to help fund New Zealand’s southernmost rescue helicopter operation.

    Last month, the Lakes District Air Rescue Trust asked the Southland Mayoral Forum for yearly funding of $100,000 to help with its rescue services.

    It was suggested the Invercargill City Council (ICC) contribute $50,000, the Southland District Council (SDC) $30,000 and the Gore District Council $20,000.

    The Queenstown Lakes District Council gives the trust $50,000 a year.

    The trust raises money to cover the unfunded costs of the operations of the Otago Regional Rescue Helicopter service in the Otago, Southern Lakes and Southland regions.

    It was not fully funded by the government, so was dependent on sponsorship and other support.

    During a meeting of the ICC performance, policy and partnerships committee last week, councillors voted to decline the application.

    Committee chairman Darren Ludlow said the decision was not a “devaluation” of the trust’s services, but he believed the request should have been made to the regional council, Environment Southland.

    It was an issue that covered more of the region rather than just Invercargill, he said.

    Cr Nigel Skelt criticised the decision, as he said it was an important service in the community.

    “If we don’t value people that’s fine and if we value bricks and mortar that’s fantastic, but this is about people… and saving lives.”

    Southland District Mayor Gary Tong said SDC declined the funding because it could not “fit” such funding in its long-term plan.

    “We support the trust, but we can’t support them financially.

    ” We love everything they do, but financially it was impossible to get it into our long-term plan.”

    However, SDC left the door open to the trust if circumstances changed, he said.

    Gore Mayor Tracey Hicks said his council had made no decision yet and had asked the trust to speak to the council about the matter.

    The council wanted clarification about how all the existing helicopter trusts worked together and the function of each to ensure any funding from the council would go to the right place, he said.

    Air rescue trust chairman Jules Tapper said he was aware ICC had declined the trust’s application, but as yet did not know of the other two councils’ responses.

    However, if they all rejected the application, he would be very disappointed as he had shown the benefits to the Southland community when he gave his presentation to the mayoral forum.

    Since the trust was established, more than 40,000 people had benefited across Otago and Southland, he said.

    “Southland [councils] didn’t put any funding into it in 30 years and it must have been used by a lot of their people.

    “It wasn’t a very big ask … I’m very disappointed if this is the case,” he said.

    “We’ve got to get the money somewhere. But I just felt that spreading the load through the councils, everybody in the area would be paying just a bit. We’re only talking possibly about $1 a head per person, you know? It is nothing.”

    Environment Southland chief executive Rob Phillips said his council recognised the value “this essential service” provided the community and would welcome a conversation with the trust.