Fired up over fees

Fired up over fees

07 January 2011

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Australia — COUNCILS across the State including Goulburn Mulwaree have been hit with large increases in emergency service contributions.

Some are refusing to pay up to 40 per cent hikes in annual fees payable to the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS), the State Emergency Service and NSW Fire and Rescue.

Goulburn Mulwaree’s contribution has risen from $328,000 last year to $382,000 in 2011. The invoice arrived just before Christmas and had to be paid by January 1.

Acting general manager Brendan Hollands said the increase came without warning, in the middle of the budget cycle.

“Part of the explanation is that implementing the recommendations from the Victorian bushfire inquiry will cost more money,” he said.

“No doubt those recommendations will improve bushfire response but it is a fair hike without warning.”

He is seeking clarification through engineering director Terry Cooper and the emergency services before paying the bill. A report will also go to councillors. As part of the arrangement, Council already buys equipment and provides fuel for the Southern Tablelands RFS, a percentage of which it claims back from the State RFS, basically as a reimbursement.

Mr Hollands said he’d be firstly checking how much was expected back this year. The council had only allocated

$328,000 in this year’s budget. Mr Hollands said technically Goulburn Mulwaree could argue it couldn’t pay the higher contribution in the middle of the budget year without approval, as other councils have, but he suspected legislation would override the Local Government Act on this point.

“With the 2.8 per cent rate pegging that the State Government restricted councils to this year and now a 40 per cent increase in the RFS levy, it makes you wonder what’s happening,” he said.

The contribution break down is:

• Fire and Rescue NSW – $99,084.

• RFS – $251,527.

• SES – $32,152.

The RFS fee rose $52,333 on last year’s contribution. Many other councils are in the same boat.

Upper Lachlan Shire’s levy has increased from $308,794 last year to $363,493 in 2011, according to Emergency Management NSW. The RFS component is up 22pc to $302,747. Nobody was available for comment this week on whether the fee had been paid.

Palerang Council has slammed its 27pc hike, equating to $398,051. The RFS levy is up $73,782 to $348,498.

Finance manager Lyndon Weatherstone said he’d be recommending to an upcoming extraordinary meeting that Council refuse to pay the full amount. He’ll argue Palerang should only pay a 2.8pc increase, in line with the State Government’s rate pegging limit.

“It’s a huge amount, particularly when you look at the services actually delivered on the ground by the RFS, including its volunteers,” he said.

“A $74,000 per annum increase is more than one per cent of council’s rate revenue. Councils are restricted by rate pegging, and then the State Government expects us to pick up the tab for services that are not delivered.

“It is a huge impost on ratepayers.”

Like Goulburn Mulwaree, Palerang did not have any warning. Mr Weatherstone argued the State Government should be footing a greater share of the bill but also providing more information on how the figures were worked out.

He said he’d discovered discrepancies between the RFS zone figures and those in the invoice.

“These relate to State figures, not the operational costs on the ground. It’s a minefield to work out,” Mr Weatherstone said.

For related articles, please see Friday’s print edition of the Goulburn Post, available from our Auburn Street office and from leading newsagencies across the region.

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