Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust loses court battle with funding board
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The High Court has thrown out a bid by the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust to overturn the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board’s decision to slash its funding.
The just released decision by Justice Susan Thomas says the board’s funding allocation was "not substantively unfair or irrational."
The funding board, created by statute, makes grant recommendations to the Auckland Council for 10 amenities, with safety and arts organisations vying for dollars from the same funding pool.
In 2013/14, some amenities received an increase in funding while the funding board slashed the helicopter trust’s grant from $1.2 million to $900,000.
The trust asked the High Court for a judicial review, saying the board’s decision was illegal, unfair and "inconsistent" with the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Act 2008.
The trust, which runs the Westpac Rescue Helicopter, has been running at a surplus from donations as well as reimbursements from ACC and district health boards for contracted flights. It’s using the surplus to save for a new helicopter.
In 2009, the trust flew 519 missions. Last year, it flew 834. For the year-ending June 2014, the trust expects $5.2 million raised from other sources with $2.53 million for expenses and the balance going toward a new helicopter.
Despite the uptick in need for the service, the funding board says other amenities haven’t been as successful in raising funds, with five of the not-for-profits operating at a deficit.
Auckland Council last week agreed to pay $400,000 in legal bills to the funding board for the High Court squabble.
Also last week, Auckland Council approved the funding board’s 2014/15 fiscal year proposal to further slash the trust’s grant in half from $900,000 to $450,000.
The trust announced plans to bring additional litigation against the board relating to the recent 2014/15 cuts but has since dropped those plans after mayor Len Brown signalled the council could step in.
“I want to work with my council colleagues through the annual plan to remedy the immediate $900,000 funding gap for the helicopter trust in the 2014/15 financial year,” he said in a March 13 statement.
The latest budget report shows a $16 million shortfall and that doesn’t account for the $900,000 in additional funding mentioned by Mr Brown.
Although the helicopter trust agreed to drop further legal battles, it hasn’t dropped its complaint to Controller and Auditor-General Lyn Provost asking her to investigate the operations of the funding board, going back to 2009.
Since 2010/11, the funding board has allocated $66 million of ratepayer funds with no written or other publicly available criteria in allocating funds, a trust statement says.
|RAW DATA: Judgment (PDF)||211.4 KB|