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Lacombe County delays decision on STARS funding

Council considering a request to provide $2-per-capita funding for air ambulance

Lacombe County council wants a little more time to make a decision on whether to provide yearly funding for STARS air ambulance.

Council was considering on Thursday a request to join a number of other central Alberta communities in providing the service $2-per-capita funding, or about $20,700 annually, in each of the next three years.

STARS representatives made a pitch to county council last month seeking ongoing support for the service whose helicopters pick up those requiring urgent medical help.

Lacombe County is one of only six Alberta counties that does not provide annual funding to STARS. Various county councils have considered and turned down four previous funding requests.

While councillors expressed their support for the life-saving organization, funding a health-related service has wider implications some said. They opted to defer a decision until the Oct. 27 council meeting.

“Trust me, it isn’t that I don’t support STARS in any way,” said Coun. Brenda Knight.

“Are we taking on a provincial matter? That is still the crux of it for me,” said Knight. “This is a tough one because everyone understands how valuable STARS is.

“It’s just opening the crack in the dam that concerns me.”

While STARS is a worthy cause, so are programs for addiction or treating mental health, as well as victims services and restorative justice initiatives, she added.

Coun. Dana Kreil echoed some of Knight’s reservations.

“I’ve always struggled with this. But I think I can be on board with this. We have to consider all of the lives saved.”

Coun. John Ireland said he has issues with supporting one non-profit society over others.

“There are other worthy charities that do affect our ratepayers as well,” he said. “I just think it’s an issue for the public, not the people at this table.”

Coun. Dwayne West said in STARS’ favour is that it is a service available to every county resident. Since STARS operates in many communities, county residents could be elsewhere but still get help when an emergency medical situation arises requiring STARS helicopters.

It costs just under $40 million per year to run STARS. About $8 million in funding comes from the Alberta government, with just over $30 million coming from STARS fundraising campaigns and lottery funds. The STARS calendar generates about $417,000 and $2.7 million comes through site registration and the emergency contact centre.

Since 2018, STARS has flown 48 missions to Lacombe County.

Other central Alberta rural municipalities have approved ongoing funding. County of Stettler provides $2.20 per capita annually and Clearwater County, Camrose County, Red Deer County and Mountain View County each provide $2 per capita. Ponoka County provides $20,000 annually.

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