Funding for Emergency Services

4 Apr 2024, 9:22 AM

Central government should be filling the funding gap for critical emergency services like Northland’s rescue choppers rather than the region’s ratepayers, the Northland Regional Council says.

The council is currently consulting on a proposal to stop its funding of emergency services as part of its Long Term Plan 2024-2034.

Submissions on the proposal can be made until Friday 19 April but the council’s Deputy Chair Tui Shortland says the message from the community to date is clear; ”these are critical services and the public does not want to see them put at risk by uncertainty around funding”.

Councillor Shortland says the council 100 percent agrees that the services are critical.

“For us, the real question is why things like critical health services are having to be topped up by council rates?”

“Why aren’t these critical life saving services being funded properly by the government in the first place?”

Councillor Shortland says councils are being asked to deliver more and more and ratepayers are reaching their limit on what they can afford to pay.

“This is putting very real pressure on council’s ability to raise rates to deliver on its core roles and functions – such as flood management, biosecurity, climate resilience, water and catchment management.”

She says providing funding to support emergency services is not a regional council function and the council’s proposal to stop annual funding contributions to emergency services would free up $1.1 million a year to deliver core work while keeping rates down.

Connections are being drawn between council’s Civil Defence role and the provision of emergency services as a reason to continue council funding those services, which currently include St John Ambulance, Surf Lifesaving, Coast Guard and rescue helicopters.

Councillor Shortland says that there are many partner agencies that respond during Civil Defence responses, including the Police and Fire and Emergency NZ, however that doesn’t mean that councils should fund these agencies.

“Council rates are essentially being used as a collection mechanism to fund emergency services which in turn is putting pressure on our capacity to fund core council services.

Those who wish to make a contribution to emergency services could continue to do so through the various fundraising initiatives those agencies run.”

She says the council supports the Northland Emergency Services Trust and other emergency services to advocate to government for a more sustainable long term funding model that provides better certainty for these services going forward.

“We have already heard from the Northland Emergency Services Trust during this consultation period that the provision of helicopter services enables specialist medical services to be concentrated in central locations, saving the government millions in costs annually. This further supports council’s view that the government should be wholly funding helicopter rescue services.”

The regional sports facilities rate is another rate that council is consulting on stopping. While the rate generates $1.59 million per year, the provision of sports facilities is not a core regional council function, and it’s proposed that this funding also be redirected towards the provision of council services (rather than increasing rates).

Councillor Shortland says that council has not made any decisions on the Emergency Services and Sports Facilities rates and that council looks forward to feedback during the consultation period.

“We look forward to feedback from the Northland Emergency Services Trust and others around the funding model for these critical services, what the impact would be should council’s contributions stop and how council can support those services to achieve greater long term security of funding.”