Brown votes to slash rescue chopper funding

Auckland Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Auckland Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Sarah Ivey
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.

Differing views:

Len Brown: "I want to work with my council colleagues ... to remedy the immediate $900,000 funding gap." - March 13

Helicopter trust: "The mayor repeated his public pledge to address the rescue helicopter's $900,000 funding gap."

- March 24

Len Brown: "The trust will need to make a funding case to the council." - March 24

Len Brown: "[The funding gap] will sit beside every other request in the community." - March 27

Helicopter trust: "Again today in communication with the trust, the mayor has made a commitment to sort out the $900,000 funding gap." - March 27

- Bernard Orsman of the NZ Herald

Chopper

It's sad that health services take a back seat to the arts. I understand that when this source of donations was first mooted it only had arts as beneficiaries and National argued for the chopper to be included. Luckily for us our chopper is owned and flown by a private company directly funded by the SDHB so it doesn't need donations from councils.

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