Surprise plans by the NSW Government to make local councils and insurers cover an additional $160m it has brought in for firefighters’ workers compensation has been greeted with dismay by Coffs Harbour City Council.
“We’re incredibly supportive of firefighters receiving entitlements for their health, but we feel strongly that our community should not be expected to cover this cost when the State Government is positioned to do so – especially as this has come without notice,” said Acting Coffs Harbour Mayor, Councillor Tegan Swan.
Each year, the NSW Government collects payments from councils and insurers to fund emergency services in NSW, with councils collectively required to pay 11.7 per cent of the total budget. These charges are funded through council rate revenue and home insurance premiums.
Last week, the NSW Government sent out invoices asking for an additional $160m from councils, communities and those paying insurance premiums from July 1 2019 to pay for its new workers’ compensation provisions for firefighters. NSW council contributions alone would rise by $19m in 2019-20, of which $14m is to support volunteer and career firefighters diagnosed with cancer.
The Bill was passed late last year, but no council in NSW was informed or consulted about the decision to fund these changes partly via an increased emergency services levy. As a result, the financial implications were unknown until councils received the invoices last week.
Coffs Harbour City Council has received an invoice from the Government asking for $1,300,061 for the emergency services levy contribution. This is $197,953 more than last year’s levy – an 18% increase. This will mean Council will need to find additional funds and/or cut planned initiatives or services.
At tonight’s Meeting, Councillors agreed to support Local Government New South Wales’ calls for the State Government to cover the initial additional $19m increase to councils for the first year and request the Government to work with councils on a fairer way to raise the required funds – potentially through a previously proposed property-based emergency services levy.
They also agreed to lobby individual NSW Government Ministers, the Premier and key Opposition MPs on the issue.