Cost-shifting levy revolt against state

Vitals services, but should ratepayers foot so much of the bill?
Vitals services, but should ratepayers foot so much of the bill?

Councils across the state including Tenterfield's are expressing their ire at huge hike in their contribution to the Emergency Services levy, which covers the NSW Fire Service, Rural Fire Service and SES. In Tenterfield's case the increase was 24 per cent, or just short of $70,000, on last year's levy.

The Office of Local Government attributes the increase to legislated changed in workers compensation entitlements for emergency service workers.

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Councillors resolved at the May meeting to support Local Governemnt NSW advocacy on the matter, and to make council's displeasure clear at the Country Mayors meeting the following week where newly-appointed Local Government minister Shelley Hancock was first speaker.

With Tenterfield and most other councils now having their 2019/20 budgets in place, the arrival of the inflated bill without notice has upset the books. Council's chief corporate officer Kylie Smith noted that councils like Tamworth were knocked back on a 10 per cent special rate increase, only in return to get a bill that was up 24 per cent.

As a firefighter herself Councillor Bronwyn Petrie queried the process for receiving compensation for presenting with common conditions like breast and prostate cancer and then proving their link to the sufferer's emergency service.

Lismore MP Janelle Saffin said she stood with Tenterfield Shire and the others in her electorate in fighting another example of cost shifting.

"I put a question on notice to Minister Hancock as soon as local mayors raised this issue with me," Ms Saffin said.

"I know Country Mayors president Cr Katrina Humphries believes this is cost shifting at its cheekiest and that many councils, already struggling to meet the government's Fit For The Future benchmarks, will simply refuse to pay the increase," she said.

"No one is arguing about the need to increase the levy towards covering new workers' compensation changes for volunteer and career firefighters affected by work-related cancers ... that is right and proper ... but the NSW Government should pick up the tab."

Local Government NSW is calling for the NSW Government to cover the initial additional $19 million increase to local councils (representing 11.7 per cent of the increase) for the first year, and to redesign the funding mechanism for the scheme to ensure fairness into the future.

Ms Saffin said the increases are all unplanned costs which could result in cuts to planned services, hurting local communities.

As advocacy efforts continue, Tenterfield councillors resolved to pay only an increase of 2.7 per cent on last year's levy, reflecting the state government-imposed rates cap for the year.