Friday, March 23, 2012

Can councils pay for emergency services? « Australian Emergency Law | #NSWpol #FRNSW #RFS #FBEU

Can councils pay for emergency services?

In Fire, Flood, Insurance and NDRRA, Legislation and plans on March 23, 2012 at 11:08 am

Government policy is to build more resilient communities, and after crises like the Queensland Floods of 2011 or the Black Saturday fires of 2009, or in fact after most inquiries, there are recommendations for more resources for the emergency services and emergency management generally. In the immediate aftermath, nothing appears more important. But resoources the emergency services, like anything, comes with a cost. The dollar spent there is a dollar not spent somewhere else. We could put a fire truck at every door we just couldn’t do anything else like have schools, hospitals, libraries etc. Part of the debate that we have to have is how much are we prepared to spend to protect against low frequency but catastrophic events?

The issue is coming to a head in mid-western New South Wales. The Australian Local Government Association is reporting that:

The NSW Mid-Western Regional Council says funding for rural firefighting must be cut so it is affordable for local governments.

The council says it is facing a 26 per cent hike in the amount of money it must contribute to the Rural Fire Service for the next financial year.

It is offering to pay an extra $9,000, which is a rise of three-and-a-half per cent.

The general manager Warwick Bennett says the state government is asking too much of councils.

“Which in effect means that council has to reduce its services in other areas to be able to continue to fund the RFS,” he said.

“So what council is saying is that the contribution that we make to the RFS should be in line with the rate increase we are told we are allowed and the RFS need to cut their budgets.”

Mr Bennett says its payments will be in line with the government’s ratepegging limit.

“Council is very, very supportive of the work that is done by the RFS but the state government imposes on council ratecapping of three-point-six per cent.

“We believe that it is unfair that a council then gets a budget thrown at it by a state government organisation which has 20 per cent increases.”

In a low fire risk season communities may be willing to accept a cut to RFS budget, but when the next catastrophic event happens, will there be demands that council, or the State should have funded the RFS and not the other community assets that are also important to having resilient, sustainable communities? The reality is that emergency management cannot be the only priority of government (at any level) and as part of the move to resilient communities, we need to understand that there will always be limitations imposed by cost; ‘how much are we prepared to pay?’ is an unpalatable but vital question to answer.

Michael Eburn

23 March 2012.

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