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Lacombe County to help fund STARS

In 4-3 split vote, council agrees to provide $20,700 annually to air ambulance service

Lacombe County council narrowly voted in favour of helping fund STARS air ambulance service.

Representatives for the life-saving medical helicopter service approached the county last month with a renewed request for $2 in per capita funding or about $20,700.

The county was one of only six counties not yet contributing to STARS, which is funded through a combination of provincial government and municipal contributions, grants and fundraising, including calendar sales.

Similar requests by STARS have been turned down four times since 2012 by Lacombe County council. Councillors have said previously while they value the service, they are leery of getting involved in funding health-care-related initiatives, as well as singling out one worthy charity over another.

On Thursday, council voted 4-3 in favour of providing $2 per capita funding over the next three years when it will be reviewed.

County Reeve Barb Shepherd said she was approached by a ratepayer following council’s discussion two weeks ago on the STARS request, who said they were embarassed the county was among the funding holdouts, pointing out STARS serves all county residents.

Shepherd said while she recognizes funding STARS could be seen as an example of provincial downloading health costs on to municipalities, she supports providing funding because of STARS’ widespread benefits.

“It’s not just one place, it’s the entire county.”

Coun. Dwayne West said he was also sold on the service’s wide-ranging benefits. County residents who find themselves in trouble in communities as far away as Winnipeg and Saskatoon can be airlifted by STARS helicopters.

West also noted the provincial government announced earlier this year that it was doubling its funding support for STARS from about $7 million annually to over $15 million. It costs about $40 million a year to run the service with just over $30 million coming from municipalities, fundraising and lottery funds last year.

Among those voting against the county funding support was Coun. Brenda Knight, who has consistently expressed her uneasiness with municipalities getting drawn into health-care funding.

For instance, ground ambulances are also in short supply, said Knight.

“I think they are one and the same in my mind,” said Knight. “If we approve the (STARS) grant and go down that road, who knows where the dollar stops.”

Also voting against were councillors Ken Weenink and John Ireland.

Ireland said county ratepayers are free to donate individually to help STARS.

“As laudable as the cause is, I have some issues with (funding) it at a municipal level.”

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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