The relationship between local government and the Rural Fire Service will come under the microscope when council meets tonight.
The General Manager of the council Michael Tolhurst has opened the debate for discussion.
In his report Mr Tolhurst said the partnership between Wellington and the RFS is good however some other councils don’t have such a good working relationship.
“Local government plays an important role in the provision of fire services throughout New South Wales. New South Wales councils hold a variety of often conflicting views about the operational structure of the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS). Many councils are dissatisfied with the current situation” his report to councillors said.
“Throughout the evolution and growth of the RFS, arrangements were progressively implemented between the RFS and councils. However, the existing arrangements are proving to be problematic, complex and inequitable.”
His discussion paper to the council also said councils are expressing growing frustration with their relationship with the RFS.
“It is clear that local government needs to develop a more cohesive and comprehensive policy position if any progress is to be made on the many issues of concern. Local government also needs to be clear about what these concerns actually are if it is to engage in constructive debate on the future delivery of rural fire services,” his report said.
The local government and Shires Associations of NSW (the Associations) already have a developed policy position on emergency service funding. The Associations’ current position for the funding of the Emergency Services Levy is: The Emergency Services Levy (ESL) should be replaced by a broad based property levy (BBPL) which would be a more equitable, transparent and accountable system. Additionally, in the interim of a BBPL being implemented, councils should be allowed to automatically increase their rates to cover the full cost of the ESL, separate from the rate pegging process.”
After reviewing the Discussion Paper, Wellington Council drafted a response to the LGSA on April 17, 2012
In general, council agrees with Option Two – “Retaining Current Arrangements with Process Improvements”.
Option 2 aims to enhance the status quo of the current arrangements with the RFS. Part of option 2 is the need to develop clear targets for improvement in the current arrangements that are causing concerns for councils.
Councils often remark that the current relationship between the RFS and councils is reminiscent of a ‘master and servant’ relationship with the RFS dictating to councils. Through option 2 a ‘Partnership’ culture would need to be developed between the RFS and local government.
Council, in its submission, also added the following points:
• The inability of small councils to continue to pay the ever increasing service fees.
• Accounting errors in two consecutive years by the Rural Fire Service.
• The timing of budget announcements in November/December by the Rural Fire Service after local government councils prepare and consult with communities to adopt their own budgets prior to June each year.
• While Wellington Council has a good consultative, working relationship with the local Rural Fire Service, we understand not all councils have such good relationships. Council believes that local government councils need to maintain their involvement in the management issues of the Service, especially in hazard reduction programmes within their own local government areas.