Councils reject rescue helicopter funding plea

A Lakes District Air Rescue Helicopter at the scene of an accident near Mossburn in 2018. The...
A Lakes District Air Rescue Helicopter at the scene of an accident near Mossburn in 2018. The Lakes District Air Rescue Trust has requested a combined $100,000 in funding from three Southland councils. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
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 contribute $50,000, the Southland District Council $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 Invercargill City Council’s performance, policy and partnerships committee earlier this week, councillors voted to decline the application.

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.

‘‘... this is about people  ... and saving lives’’, he said.

Southland Mayor Gary Tong said his council 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, the Southland council 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 fu

ction 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 the Invercargill council 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 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 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.



Good to see the councils taking care of their ratepayers.

I suggest the next time a mayor or councillor gets into an accident or lost in the bush, he/she gives great thought to the decision he made in not financially supporting such an organisation.

I assume the pilot of the aircraft has the power to decline to take any passenger on board, or fly a search and rescue mission should Jimbo get lost in the middle of Invercargill looking for his college Timbo one day.

Councils, their members and the idiotic decisions they make ... hard for a true 100% Pure Kiwi Bloke to comprehend ...