The official representative association for the State’s 74,000 volunteer fire fighters, the NSW Rural Fire Service Association (RFSA), believes it has secured sustainable funding for its members following a commitment from the NSW Government over a new property-based emergency services levy.
The new levy, to be charged to landowners through their local government rate payments, replaces the existing funding model where emergency services are funded primarily through levies collected by insurance companies.
RFSA President Ken Middleton said the Association supported the existing insurance-based model over the proposed property-based model, but recognised the Government’s intent of following other States into a property-based model, and therefore worked closely with the Government to secure the best interests of its members under a new approach.
“We had concerns about the property-based levy before and we still have some concerns now, but at the end of the day we believe we have achieved our first priority – to ensure funding levels for rural fire-fighting services are maintained and have the ability to grow as required,” Mr Middleton said.
“We commissioned Deloitte to look at our options under the new funding model so we understood clearly where the potential
flaws would be for our members. That work was vital for us to be armed with the facts we needed when we entered negotiations.
“As a result we were able to make our case clearly and strongly to the NSW Government so our members achieve the best result possible out of these new arrangements.”
Mr Middleton said the RFSA had negotiated to ensure the RFS retained its autonomy in the emergency services structure, to maintain funding levels with room for growth, and to give the service the ability to roll over unspent committed funds for volunteers into the next financial year.
Mr Middleton says interstate experience suggests a broad property levy may not always be able to keep up with the funding needs of a rural fire service, which the RFSA will monitor closely over coming years.
“Our number one priority is to ensure our members, the 74,000-plus volunteers who make up the RFS, continue to be funded adequately and appropriately,” Mr Middleton said.
“We congratulate the Government on being open to consultation, for listening to our concerns as the peak body representing the volunteers and members of the rural fire service, and for taking steps to improve the legislation.
“The RFSA will continue to fight on behalf of our members and volunteers to make sure the NSW Government is true to its word to maintain strong funding for the RFS.”