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Regional fund for emergency services saves lifeguard patrol

Paid lifeguarding duties at Raglan’s Ngarunui Beach is safe for the next two years, thanks to Waikato Regional Council agreeing to establish a fund of $630,000 for emergency rescue services in its territory.

Surf Lifesaving Northern Region (SLNR) acting CEO Matt Williams says the council’s decision to include a rate of $3.74 per property in its 2015-2025 Long Term Plan for the fund has provided certainty around the regional lifeguarding service, which sees the main beaches in the Waikato region patrolled Monday to Friday during the summer months.

Last summer, these paid patrols at Raglan Beach, which usually run from Labour Weekend to Easter, were at a risk of being cut short because of a funding shortage of $41,000, after Hamilton City Council refused to support the service. In the end, Waipa District Council and an anonymous donor stumped up with the shortfall.

SLNR has been lobbying the council for years to increase its funding contribution so it didn’t have to go cap in hand to other councils.

Last year, SLNR had asked the regional council for $260,000 for its summer patrols but had got only $25,000.

Now, SLNR will receive $354,600 a year, $175,400 will go to Coastguard, and the Auckland Helicopter Trust and Philips Search and Rescue will each receive $50,000.

“It’s a significant increase in the amount of money for the regional lifeguard service,” says Mr Williams.
“It’s enough to provide an increase in service at Raglan, Sunset Beach, Hot Water Beach, and extensions of service at Cathedral Cove when needed.”

However, he says Surf Lifesaving will continue to try and build on its relationship with Waikato Regional Council, and lobby central government, because there are still costs not being met.

“Everyone wants to use us but no-one wants to take responsibility of us,” says Mr Williams.

“We have gone beyond being a charity.

“We could give it the death test … but we have to continue because there is a moral cost.”

SLNR had originally asked the regional council for $601,500 so it could also provide funding to the volunteer life saving clubs. The volunteer lifeguards patrol the beaches during the weekends for free.
The proposal to create an emergency fund for rescue services in the Waikato was released for public feedback in March this year, and the council received 549 submissions on it.

The council gave ratepayers three different funding options to choose from, and said its preferred option was for a lower funding package of $400,000 a year, at a per property rate of $2.37.

Mr Williams says 94 per cent of the submissions regarding the emergency services fund were in favour of the higher rate.

“That is what the public asked for, loud and clear.”

WRC chairperson Paula Southgate says while Surf Lifesaving, Coastguard and rescue helicopter services do a splendid job and keep people safe on the land and in the water, the council should be considered a contributor, not underwriter, of their sustainability.

“Our role isn’t to fund charitable organisations,” she says, however “we do need to play our part in contributing to regional economic wellbeing”.

Raglan Volunteer Coastguard president Wally Hawken says while the fund is “very welcome” and will go a long way towards operating costs, “it’s not exactly what we would have liked” in terms of the amount.

However, it is “an additional sum, which has not been forthcoming from councils in the past.”

“Anything is better.”

Raglan will get a share of the $175,000 per anum, to be spent on operational costs only.

Mr. Hawken says Raglan Coastguard, whose volunteers collectively put in 10,000 hours of work per year, are finding it increasingly more difficult to find funds to operate.

“Lottery grants funding is shrinking and other funding avenues are becoming more and more unreliable.”

Meanwhile, Raglan Coastguard’s Gallagher Rescue boat is in Tauranga being fitted with two engines. It is expected to be back on the Raglan Harbour by the end of the month.

Inger Vos

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