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Innisfail steps up fundraising moves for heliport

Administration still looking into possible grant opportunities to support $900,000 upgrade cost
MVP Innisfail heliport funding model
The Innisfail Heliport has been closed for more than 13 months while the town figures out a funding model to pay for the $900,000 cost to upgrade the out-of-date facility. File Photo/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – Administration is digging a little deeper to come up with a good community fundraising model that would help pay the escalating cost for out-of-date and closed Innisfail Heliport.

During council’s Agenda & Priorities meeting on July 5, administration was told by one council member that raising between $150,000 and $200,000 was doable if the right community fundraising model was put to the public.

“There are families out there that I think would be willing to put in $3,000 or $5,000, especially a lot of families that have been directly affected through STARS,” said Coun. Danny Rieberger.

 “I think if you market this properly and if we are looking for a budget number to work with, I think that would be a realistic number to throw out there.”

Todd Becker, the town’s chief administrative officer, opened up the heliport discussion on July 5th wanting increased clarity from council on its expectations and scope of the proposed community fundraising model to help pay for the increased cost of modernizing the facility, which has been closed for 13 months with air ambulance service now operating out of Big Bend Airport.

More specifically, he wanted some idea how a community fundraising campaign would be introduced to local citizens, and whether it would look like the one that raised about $60,000 for the Innisfail Skatepark. 

Becker said until details of a community fundraising plan were finalized it would be difficult to see how it could be administered.

“I do think you have to have a game plan that takes you right to the finale but we won’t know that until we get some numbers to work with,” said Mayor Jim Romane.

The question on how and when to move on fixing up the badly worn 23-year-old facility across from the Innisfail Health Centre was seriously impacted during a special council meeting on May 17 when administration revealed the project’s original estimated cost of $450,000 had doubled to $900,000.

However, while council was shocked at the cost increase it nevertheless directed administration to go ahead with procurement, the process to get competitive bids for the contract to fix up the heliport and bring back council a recommended award, which is now expected to be presented before the end of summer.

In the meantime, council members also chatted at the same meeting about possible grant opportunities, and other funding sources.

“I think there is a fairly significant community component out there that doesn’t necessarily belong to a service club but who would like to be involved,” said Coun. Jean Barclay, who is planning on talking to the Rotary Club of Innisfail about helping out.

Council was told the Innisfail Lions Club and Innisfail Kinsmen will also be approached.

However, Meghan Jenkins, the town’s community services director, reminded council there were many other “competing activities” for local service clubs to consider, such as the Diamond 7 renovation project and community playgrounds.

Coun. Gavin Bates said he found the heliport issue over the past year to be “very emotional” for the community and many citizens do want to get behind it to the point of supporting a tax increase to ensure the modernization project is realized.

He advanced the question of whether the town should approach Red Deer County to help finance the project.

“I think this will have a component of interest to them,” said Bates. “When you do things collaboratively and if you approach early, you get a better reception where they can have a part in it.”

Becker told council he was not yet going to ask for formal direction on campaign fundraising but added administration will have discussions to create a plan going forward.

“That’s what I am picking up, that someone needs to develop a campaign. We’re still working on a potential group to support that. Before we ask for formal direction, we will initiate some work on that immediately,” said Becker.

As far as government grant support, Jenkins said the town could look provincially at the Community Facility Enhancement Program (CFEP) as the heliport is deemed as a facility.

Becker told The Albertan last week that Alberta Health Services (AHS) will not provide any funding for the project.

“We are not identified as a priority port for them. We are not managed or operated by AHS. This is a public town-owned amenity facility and they are not providing funding for it,” said Becker last week, adding there could be grant opportunities from the federal government.

“There are some grants out there for amenity refurbishment. We will see if we can apply the heliport project to grants. We have not concluded that review."

Becker told council tender results for heliport modernization will soon be presented to council in the “near” future. Council will then be asked by administration for the direction it wishes to take with the project – proceed without any secured external funding sources like grants or fundraising monies, or move boldly ahead with taxpayers’ money.

“Do you want to advance it. Do you want to hold off until we have secured funds from grants and the community, or what do you want to do council? There will be a challenging conversation I would anticipate with council,” said Becker.

“We will see in the near future how they wish to proceed.”


Johnnie Bachusky

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