Fire service fee increase causes concern

Fire service fee increase causes concern

25 January 2011

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Australia — THE cost of local emergency services in the Cooma-Monaro shire have risen sharply, with annual Rural Fire Service fees in NSW up $40 million this year to accommodate a range of new recommendations from the Victorian bushfire Royal Commission.

Local councils across the state will have to fund $4.6 million of the total $40 million increase, and many are not happy about the charges being dumped upon them late in the financial year when extra funds are hard to find.

While Cooma-Monaro Shire Council praised the work of RFS volunteers at its ordinary meeting last week, Acting General Manager David Byrne told the Express that the $5,118 increase for the shire – or an 18 per cent increase on last year would be tough to meet.

“It makes it a lot harder for council to meet the costs,” he said.

“It’s increasing a lot faster than the State Government allows us to (raise revenue) through its rate-pegging system.”

A meeting between the Local Government and Shires Association (LGSA) and Emergency Services Minister Steve Whan last week attempted to address the concerns of local councils across the state.

Embarrassingly for Mr Whan’s office, an error in the original funding formula was located during the meeting, forcing revised invoices to be issued to councils.

LGSA President Cr Keith Rhoades said that it was a good result for local councils.

“Over the past few weeks, the large spike in contributions to the Emergency Services Levy (ESL) has been a great deal of concern for councils and their communities,” he said.

“If we’d been given the opportunity to consult prior to the figures being released, we could have had a better understanding of the changes and pointed out the discrepancies before their release. A great deal of anxiety…could have been avoided.”

Cr Rhoades also said that the minister would not enforce the mandatory $5,500 fine for late third quarter payments, due by the end of the month. RFS Monaro Manager Jim Darrant told the Express that he’d be working with council to try and work out a smooth payment process.

“Now that the levy has been revised, we’ll be working with council to ensure we remain within the established business plan,” he said.

Mr Darrant said that the increased levy would result in an improved service for Monaro residents.

“My expectation is that there will be significant increases in fire mitigation services across the Monaro,” he said.

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