Councillor: Declining helicopter trust funding doesn’t value people

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The Lakes District Air Rescue Trust, which provides medical helicopter and search and rescue operations in the Southern Otago, Southern Lakes, and Southland regions, has requested funding from Southland’s three councils.

Barry Harcourt

The Lakes District Air Rescue Trust, which provides medical helicopter and search and rescue operations in the Southern Otago, Southern Lakes, and Southland regions, has requested funding from Southland’s three councils.

An Invercargill city councillor believes his council isn’t valuing its people by opting not to help fund a helicopter rescue trust.

The Lakes District Air Rescue Trust made a presentation in July to the Southland Mayoral Forum requesting funding from Southland’s three councils to help with its operation.

The three mayors (Invercargill was represented by deputy mayor Nobby Clark) believed they should collectively fund $100,000 annually.

The suggested breakdown was Invercargill City Council ($50,000), Southland District Council ($30,000), and Gore District Council ($20,000).

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Council’s strategy and policy manager Rhiannon Suter told councillors on Tuesday the Gore District Council has requested Trust chair Jules Tapper to speak to its committee, while the Southland District Council has indicated it will decline the $30,000 request.

Cr Darren Ludlow moved a motion that would see the Invercargill council also decline the request, given it had not been supported by other councils.

He suggested Southland’s regional council, Environment Southland, might be an appropriate place to seek funding.

Invercargill city councillor Nigel Skelt is appalled Southland’s councils has not backed a rescue helicopter trust’s funding request.

John Hawkins/Stuff

Invercargill city councillor Nigel Skelt is appalled Southland’s councils has not backed a rescue helicopter trust’s funding request.

Cr Nigel Skelt said he was appalled Southland’s councils had not backed the helicopter trust’s $100,000 request.

The trust provides medical helicopter, and search and rescue operations in the Southern Otago, Southern Lakes, and Southland regions.

The provision of service is heavily dependent on sponsorship and other additional support.

Cr Ian Pottinger suggested the funding request should be considered at the time of the annual plan.

However, mana whenua appointee Evelyn Cook felt passing the request onto the annual plan process might be misleading.

She did not believe it was council’s role to help fund the service.

“This is the council getting into something that is the purview of the health sector or the emergency response sector, not the council as such,” Cook said.

“I don’t think that is what citizens elect councils to do, to run an emergency response service.”

Skelt was not convinced.

“If we are going to wait for the health department or Central Government it’s going to be a very long wait. A hugely long wait if the current regime continues with our health service,” Skelt said.

“If we don’t value people that’s fine, and we value bricks and mortar, fantastic. But this is about people this is actually about people and saving lives of people.”

Ludlow, who was chairing the meeting, said Skelt’s comments that the council did not value lives was unfair and emotive.

Cr Alex Crackett also took exception to Skelt’s comments that a decision to vote against the funding request meant the council did not care for people.

She said it was clear under the Local Government Act what the council’s core business was.

“We are not a health or emergency services provider, it is simply out of our scope and isn’t an effective use of ratepayer money,” Crackett said.

Cr Rebbeca Amundsen said council simply did not have the capacity to fund everything, and it was not a priority. Although Cr Alan Arnold did not believe there was a better use of its well-being fund than for the helicopter service.

When the motion to decline the Lakes District Air Rescue Trust’s funding request was put to the vote, eight councillors agreed, five voted against, and Ian Pottinger and Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt abstained.

Ludlow, Amundsen, Soper, Crackett, Cook, Peter Kett, Marcus Lush, and Graeme Lewis all voted in favour of declining the $50,000 funding request.

Skelt, Arnold, Clark, Pania Coote, and Lindsay Abbott voted against the motion.

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