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First citizen knows fire fighting

It’s rare for Keith Rhoades to be caught out not wearing one of his trademark hats.
It’s rare for Keith Rhoades to be caught out not wearing one of his trademark hats. Rob Wright/Coffs Coast Advocate

WEARING three hats gives 'first citizen' Keith Rhoades a unique insight into long time endeavours to change funding methods for fire fighting.

As Mayor of Coffs Harbour City Council (CHCC), President of the Local Government and Shires Association of NSW (LGSA) and Sawtell Fire Station Commander, Councillor Rhoades might have difficulty knowing which way to turn.

Instead, he's firm in the opinion that a state-wide property levy is the fairest way to help fund local fire stations, the Rural Fire Service (RFS) and the State Emergency Service (SES).

"For many years, we at the LGSA have bashed our heads against the wall trying to get a succession of state governments to look at our proposal and the reasons why we want the change, with little response," he said.

"However, we seem to be getting a positive hearing at last, especially after lobbying (Nationals MLC) Melinda Pavey.

"What we are proposing is a much fairer way to fund the services."

Under a longstanding agreement, CHCC contributes 12.5% of the cost to run fire stations at Woolgoolga, Coffs Harbour and Sawtell.

It contributes the same percentage to fund local Rural Fire Service activities while a similar financial structure has been introduced over the past two years with the SES.

The NSW Government matches council contributions with a further 12.5% but the bulk of funding comes from a fire levy built into insurance policies.

"The problem here is that not all property owners have taken out insurance, so the burden is falling more often on local government," Cr Rhoades said.

"In the west of the state and around southern NSW almost all of the cost is being put back on the councils and that is increasingly becoming unsustainable.

"So the LGSA is proposing a broad-based property levy on all premises, irrespective of whether or not they are covered by insurance.

"It would be much fairer and spread the burden around evenly."

The obvious drawback comes for those who do insure their properties suddenly finding another cost added on but Cr Rhoades maintains this will not apply under any new levy.

"Property owners already contribute through their rates but this would lessen if the LGSA can convince the government of the need to switch over to a broad-based levy," he added.

"Look, if a property owner isn't insured and has the misfortune to have a fire, the big red truck will still head down the road to his place but the person with insurance and paying rates will be picking up most of the freight.

"But with a levy, everybody shares part of the cost and we think that's a much better way."

Topics:  emergency services, fire fighting, first citizen, keith rhoades


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