Tough times for STARS funding

Financial donations are the lifeblood of STARS air ambulance service.

Financial donations are the lifeblood of STARS air ambulance service.

Three-quarters of the non-profit foundation’s $41-million operating budget comes from fundraising and other revenue.

A significant contributor has been the province’s oil and gas sector. However, that support has been shrinking as the industry is pummelled by rock-bottom world oil prices.

“It’s definitely down as far as what we’re seeing from industry,” said Glenda Farnden, senior municipal relations liaison.

Some supporting companies have folded and others have had to scale back their own STARS fundraising events as firms look at shoring up their bottom lines.

While Alberta Health Services is the single largest funder with an annual contribution just under $10 million, the oil and gas industry has been one of STARS biggest private sector supporters.

“We do have some long-term industry partners that have made some significant commitments to continuing the service,” said Farnden, who did not a specific breakdown of contributions by sector.

Among other recurring donors are two-thirds of the province’s municipalities, which collectively contribute about $1.3 million to the foundation each year.

To help boost funding, STARS would like to see the remaining one-third of Alberta municipalities that don’t support the foundation financially to consider an ongoing per-capita donation.

The target is $2 per capita but STARS understands communities may want to start lower.

Farnden was before Lacombe County council on Thursday to request a $1-per-capita two-year pledge. Council, as is usual practice, referred the request to staff for a report and recommendations for a later meeting.

STARS averages about 10 calls a year in Lacombe County, which is on the lower side in Central Alberta. Red Deer County averages about 70 a year and Clearwater County 45.

While most communities have chosen the $2-per-capita, many are giving more and one community donates $65 per capita every year — a $150,000 cheque annually.

Besides giving STARS a level of financial security, the municipal contributions bring Albertans together to support a service that has made more than 30,000 flights over the last 31 years.

“STARS belongs to Albertans so this is maybe where we can join together,” she said.

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