Council has expressed its utter disbelief at the State Government's recent advice that Cowra will pay an approximately 50% increased contribution to the Rural Fire Service for the 2021/2022 financial year.
Council moved at their meeting this week to write to the relevant members of parliament and Local Government NSW to raise concerns at the obvious impact these increases are having and will have on Council's finances and the level of service provided to our community.
"Council is fully supportive of the Rural Fire Service (RFS) and our RFS volunteers in regional areas. These decisions are not being made in regional areas, but in Head Office, and Head Office is putting their hand in local government pockets without any consultation or consideration of local government and the communities we represent," said Mayor of Cowra, Cr Bill West.
"Receiving advice from the State Government of these exorbitant increases halfway through a budgetary process and financial year has become a regular occurrence. There needs to be long term budgeting; the funding model just isn't working. At the end of the day, this sort of increase means there are services that Council will no longer be able to provide to our rate payers," Cr West continued.
Speaking to the report at this week's meeting, Deputy Mayor, Cr Judi Smith described the advice from State Government as an unconscionable and disproportionate burden on the ratepayers of rural and regional councils.
"This council is fully supportive of adequate and sustainable funding for everything that firefighters need to do a very difficult job, including comprehensive insurance to support them and their families. Speaking for this motion is by no means speaking against the volunteers who do such a terrific job. But proper budgeting is essential. A sustainable funding model that is transparent and that is up front before Councils do their budgets is needed, that takes into account rate pegging," Cr Smith said.
Increases to the general income of Councils are restricted by rate-pegging, while RFS contributions have no such restrictions and the contribution required of councils regularly exceeds the rate-peg.
While the NSW Government has funded a share of this increase in the past, until a longer term funding model is introduced, it will always be at the discretion of the government of the day. Council will now need to amend its estimates in the 10-Year Financial Plan based upon the new benchmark for RFS contributions without any rebate. This will have a cumulative effect well in excess of $1million.
"The continuing increase of the RFS levy at rates far in excess of council revenue growth is of serious concern. Council will now seek assistance with funding these substantial increases as a matter of urgency," Cr West concluded.