SLAMMED: A hike in the emergency services levy sparked a robust debate at the Kyogle Council meeting on Tuesday evening.
SLAMMED: A hike in the emergency services levy sparked a robust debate at the Kyogle Council meeting on Tuesday evening. mapio.net

State Government's cost shifting slammed as 'out of control'

KYOGLE Mayor Danielle Mulholland says cost shifting from State Government is "out of control" after council was hit with a $52,000 hike on its emergency services levy.

The  NSW Government collects funds under the Emergency Services Levy Act 2017 from local councils, insurance companies and foreign insured policy holders, to support the work of emergency services in NSW.

Local councils pay the State Government 11.7 per cent of the costs of fire and emergency services in NSW, but the recent hike means Kyogle Council's emergency services levy fee has gone from $200,000 a year up to $252,000 a year, heavily impacting the councils already "tight budget."

Cr Mulholland said the levy increase for bigger councils across NSW was more than $300,000 dollars a year.

"For us, it's almost 25 percent levy increase and it's a huge issue," Cr Mulholland said.

"We have to find $52,000 dollars out of our budget and we have already put our draft budget out.

"We've had no engagement from the State Government and neither have any other councils, only a notification about the increase.

"We are one of the poorest LGAs in NSW - the levy is a state government responsibility - SES, RFS they all report to the state they don't report to councils so why are they asking us to fund them?"

Cr Mulholland said the levy increase was the only thing both the NSW Joint Organisation (JO) chairs and the Country Mayors agreed on at meeting last week.

At the meeting, all 13 JO Chairs, representing every council in NSW decided to write to the NSW Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock and all MPs to vigorously protest the hike, requesting the government defer the payment for at least 12 months so the promised engagement with councils could be undertaken and the tax, be highlighted as a line item on Council rates notices so that residents and ratepayers can see where the increase has occurred and by whom it was introduced.

"That letter was hand delivered to the minster the very next day - we said we want a response in 28 days," she said.

"We do recognise the need for the increase, because this levy provides emergency services personal insurance to make sure they are covered for any of the 12 cancers they can be exposed to during their work.

"But here is only so much cost shifting that councils can absorb by the State Government... what we are saying to state government is enough is enough.

"Where the State Government thinks we are going to magic up an increase in the emergency services levy, a waste levy the insurance we have to pay, is out of control. It's about time they stopped dipping into councils pockets and took responsibility for their own portfolios."

She said while finding the $52,000 from the budget would be "a challenge," council was not looking at increasing rates to cover the levy increase.

General Manger Graham Kennett said the increase meant any wiggle room council did have in the 2019/2020 budget was gone. 

"When we put draft budget on public display for a month, we didn't know about the increase in the levy, but we had to incorporate it into the final budget," Mr Kennett said.

"The final budget was adopted tonight and will be published in a couple of days.

"At this stage it wouldn't mean a rise in rates, we will need the conversation with the community over the next couple of years but there are always other options other than rate increases."

The issue was brought to the forefront at tonight's Kyogle council meeting igniting a robust debate among councillors.

Councillor Linsday Passfield foreshadowed a motion "that council include provision for the levy increase in its budget but withhold payment until the issue being lobbied by the NRJO, CMA, Kyogle council and the LGNSW".

"I think it's premature to just pay the levy when there's a significant effort into lobbying right across the local government sector," Cr Passfield said.

Councillor Hayden Doolan spoke against the foreshadowed motion.

"I followed other councils who said they were not going to pay it and the government have come clearly out and said they would sack the council and put an administrator on them... so passing this motion could effectively put us in the position of being a sacked council," he said.

Mayor Mulholland said the levy was a statutory requirement and an unnegotiated levy and if council refused to pay the increase they were putting themselves at risk as a council body.

"We need to leave it to the lobbying of the JO's, the country mayors, our lobbying and Local government NSW," she said.

Genera Manager Graham Kennett strongly advised councillors not to pass the motion.

Cr Passfield withdrew the foreshadowed motion.