Local government across New South Wales are coming to terms with a last-minute big budget impost from the State Government.
Snowy Monaro Regional Council needs to find an extra $207,000, Eurobodalla an extra $175,000, Bega Valley – $143,000, and Yass Valley – $114,000.
Yass Mayor and Chair of the Canberra Region Joint Organisation of councils, Rowena Abbey says every council across the state is wrestling with the issue.
“There has been no consultation and from our perspective, the issue is that this is unbudgeted for and we are all about to adopt our budgets,” Cr Abbey says.
The extra funds form part of the Emergency Services Levy that local government has always had a role in collecting via ratepayers through quarterly rates notices.
Each year, the NSW Government collects payments from councils and insurance companies to help fund emergency agencies across the state. These charges are embedded in council rates and insurance premiums.
From next week, an additional $160 million is needed to provide better workers’ compensation coverage for volunteer and career firefighters who are diagnosed with one of 12 work-related cancers.
Acting Opposition Leader in the NSW Legislative Assembly Ryan Park says it is households that will end up feeling the squeeze and regional communities that will suffer.
“The Fire and Emergency Services Levy will add up to $100 to household insurance bills and pass the cost on to councils across the state which will be forced to cut services to pay for it,” he says.
“When you take hundreds of thousands of dollars from these communities, you leave potholes in the road, take playgrounds and sports fields from children and push up council rates for every household in this state.”
Bega Valley Mayor Kristy McBain says, “Councils were sent bills with a letter from Revenue NSW in May 2019, saying NSW Council contributions will increase by $19m in 2019/20. The letter also foreshadowed increases in the following year, but not the amount.”
“Bega Valley Shire Council received an invoice from Revenue NSW for $762,000 for its emergency services levy contribution. A 23 per cent increase. This will mean Council will need to find additional funds and/or cut planned projects or services.”
The local government sector is calling on the Berejiklian – Barilaro Government to fund the first 12 months of this extra cost and work with councils to ensure a fairer funding mechanism into the future.
Region Media asked NSW Local Government Minister, Shelly Hancock for comment, however it was Police and Emergency Services Minister David Elliott who responded.
“This cost sharing arrangement is consistent with how the Emergency Services Levy has been funded historically,” he says.
“The NSW Emergency Services Levy will increase to ensure our firefighters diagnosed with cancer receive the medical care and support they need and deserve. Firefighters put their lives on the line to keep us safe and these changes ensure they receive the support they require in their hour of need.
“The extra support will be funded as part of a cost sharing arrangement with insurers, councils and the government. Insurers will meet 73.7 per cent of the cost, [State] government will provide 14.6 per cent and councils 11.7 per cent.
“The government will continue to support local councils. We have provided more than $9 billion to councils since 2011, to deliver and improve local infrastructure, services and facilities for their communities,” Mr Elliott says.
Eurobodalla Mayor Liz Innes says some council are considering not paying the increase, Eurobodalla, however, has adjusted its budget to accommodate the change.
“We support what is trying to be achieved, but this is a massive hit to our bottom line,” she says.
“Overall, the State Government has been very supportive of local government and we will use that good relationship to move forward.”
Cr Abbey says everyone wants to see firefighters looked after, however better communication is needed.
“If the State Government had consulted with us on the way through we could have worked out a better way of managing this,” Cr Abbey says.
“The recommendation from the 13 chairs of the Joint Organisations in New South Wales is that this be deferred for 12 months and in the meantime let’s consider this in discussion with the Government.”
Region Media understands Local Government Minister, Shelly Hancock is sympathetic and has made a commitment to councils to consider the issue.