Councils' budget stress
LOCAL councils will get amended invoices from the State Government for their quarterly contributions to emergency services funding following a meeting between the State Emergency Services Minister Steve Whan and local government organisations.
Councils received big hikes in their third-quarter invoices following planned changes to emergency services introduced as a result of the review into the disastrous Victorian bush fires. Coffs Harbour City Council received a bill for $406,000 (estimate $350,000); Bellingen Shire $249,000 (estimate $226,000) and Nambucca Shire $226,000 (estimate $216,000).
These unexpectedly large bills arrived just before Christmas with a due date of the end of this month, causing many councils severe budget stress.
The president of the Local Government Association, Coffs Harbour mayor Cr Keith Rhoades, said the changes had added $36 million to the Emergency Services budget which he believed should have been absorbed by the State Government, not passed on to local councils. The councils contribute 11.7 per cent of the operational and management costs of the Rural Fire Service, State Emergency Services and Rural Fire Brigades
Cr Rhoades said although they had not been able to convince the Minister that the State should shoulder the extra cost, they had been able to show him there was an error in the calculations and to persuade him to waive the $5000 fine for payments not received from councils by January 31.