No ‘free’ ride for fires

No ‘free’ ride for fires

19 September 2008

published by

Australia — The Kangaroo Island Council is going into battle with the State Government over plans to force local councils to provide emergency services support for free.

The plan would cost the Kangaroo Island Council thousands of dollars a year and the council has reacted angrily at what it sees as a cost-shifting exercise.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils around the State has drawn up a draft Memorandum of Understanding with the State Government’s SAFECOM emergency group, which is funded by the Emergency Services Levy.

The MOU would compel local councils to provide plant and equipment at no cost during an emergency, such as last year’s Kangaroo Island bushfires.

Kangaroo Island Mayor Jayne Bates said at last week’s council meeting that such an agreement would cost councils dearly, particularly a council such as Kangaroo Island which faced campaign bushfires annually and was already not financially viable.

The council had billed the CFS $56,000 for use of plant and equipment for last year’s fires.

Technical Services Manager John Fernandez said this bill did not represent the full cost to the council in time lost and delays to other works programs during an emergency.

“Of course, the council will respond and support our community in an emergency, And while that bill might account for actual plant hire and the labour to run that plant, the true cost to the council is much more. This whole organisation was consumed by bushfire activity for weeks,” Ms Bates said.

In her report to the council, Fire Prevention Officer Anthea Howard said the LGA continued to support the MOU despite feedback from many councils that they did not agree.

“There is clearly no allocation in the current (council) budget for such a contingency,” Ms Howard says in her report to the council.

“It is also noted that given the regularity of campaign fires each season on the island that this is effectively an annually recurring expense to various degrees depending on the magnitude of the incidents,” she says.

She said the LGA appeared to have ignored feedback from councils.

She attended a forum on the issue recently and had made it clear that the KI Council could not tender “free use of equipment”.

She also had raised the issue of council staff having inadequate training for fireground activity.

The council resolved to contact the LGA and the Emergency Service Minister directly with its concerns.

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