South Columbia SAR hall is located on Main Street in Fruitvale. (Trail Times file photo)

South Columbia SAR: ‘Help us secure stable and long-term funding’

Ongoing provincial funding commitment required to sustain BC Search and Rescue teams

Long gone are the days of bake sales and bottle drives being viable ways to keep Search and Rescue (SAR) teams financially afloat, says Mike Hudson, president of South Columbia SAR.

Local SAR branches, alongside 80 teams from across B.C., are asking communities to support their message that an annual funding commitment from the province is a must.

“Things are not looking to good for SAR teams across the province. It’s very disappointing to hear that we have not been included so far into the 2019 budget,” Hudson told the Trail Times.

“If British Columbia wants to continue to have a world class and first rate Search and Rescue service, they need to start funding it.

“We would like to know if our local MLA Katrine Conroy and our local village and city officials will go to bat for us and all SAR teams in the province,” he said.

“To help us secure stable and long-term funding for what we do.”

The Times contacted MLA Conroy via email to ask if Kootenay West constituents had contacted her office with respective concerns.

“Yes, my office has heard from some concerned community members, but I have received assurances from the Minister of Public Safety that this should not cause concern for the public,” she replied.

“Our government will continue to provide Search and Rescue groups in B.C. with the operational supports they need to respond to emergencies and SAR members will continue to be reimbursed for operational and out-of-pocket expenses incurred during deployment, as has always been the process.”

The matter is especially timely as SAR funding was brought up during question period in the legislative assembly on Monday.

“Minister Farnworth is committed to working with SAR and Emergency Management BC to explore sustainable funding that works for everyone,” Conroy said.

“In the meantime we will continue to provide operational funding for search and rescue in B.C.”

There are eight teams in the immediate region and hundreds of volunteer SAR members affected by funding decisions.

Fighting for operational gaming grants year after year is a weighty task for the volunteers, as is regularly approaching regional providers to make up for financial shortfalls, Hudson said.

“Not only our local grant providers but the continued strain we place on local business for fundraising and special projects and events,” he added.

“Each team often asks the same larger local business for their help. These funds get harder and harder to obtain as the economy changes and costs increase.”

Three years ago, the province committed $10-million to BC SAR as an “alternate support model.”

“Many of the 80 groups didn’t even have a SAR base of operations, or a place to train, they had equipment and gear spread out over cities and towns at different members homes, this included our group,” explained Hudson.

“That funding was crucial for vehicle purchases, new buildings or renovations, training costs, equipment purchases and operating expenses.”

With that revenue stream dried up, the teams are left hanging because at this point, there is no secure funding model in place.

“Being (off) the radar is not where we were hoping to be after all this time working with government to get what we need,” Hudson said.

“With the NDP government boasting about our economy, balanced budgets, and surpluses, to leave out a key service in our province is a blow to what we do.”

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