STAWELL - Ratepayers could be forced to fund the position of Emergency Management (Fire) Co-ordinator in order to keep the role full time within the Northern Grampians Shire Council.
This comes after the Victoria Government announced it would be cutting back its financial support for the position.
Council received $100,000 funding through the Municipal Fire and Emergency Management Resourcing Program in 2011/12 to appoint an Emergency Management (Fire) Co-ordinator - the initial program was to run for 12 months, with the possibility of an extension.
The Shire received a letter from the Department of Planning and Community Development in early January advising that the funding will not be extended beyond July 2012 in its current format and instead the same amount of funding per year ($100,000) is being offered on a shared arrangement with Ararat Rural City Council and the Pyrenees Shire Council, for two years.
Council has agreed to write to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Peter Ryan urgently requesting his government fully fund local governments to sufficiently resource their statutory and community responsibilities.
Cr Ray Hewitt said the high-risk position of the Shire warranted its own individual officer.
"This is fairly important to us as a council as we have a very strong history of being prone to disaster, with our geography with lots of bush and lots of rivers we've seen disastrous things happen," he said.
"I think it is unfair to be lumped together with another shire that is almost in a similar position.
“We expect State Government to support the funding for this personnel and we should be able to have our own dedicated emergency people.”
An officer was appointed by Council to the position of Emergency Management (Fire) Coordinator in July, 2011 for a term of twelve months to assist with implementing recommendations from the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.
The coordinator has been heavily involved in the Municipal Emergency Management Resourcing Program, which is intended to ensure that councils in regional Victoria are better placed to respond to future emergency and natural disaster events that include, but are not limited to, bushfires.
According to Cr Wayne Rice it should be the State Government’s responsibility to see that adequate funding is provided towards the program.
“This is another classic example of overreaction and over regulation from the government,” he said.
“They have taken an overreaction to the findings from the bushfire commission and imposed a wildfire overlay over something like 76 percent of the Northern Grampians Shire, then said the council have to fund these people to go around and look at things such as the fire dangers and the place of last resort and it is really being put back on the rate payers of the Northern Grampians Shire.
“If the Government want to introduce these areas into the structure then let them fund it themselves, I don’t see why our budget - which is well and truly stretched beyond its capabilities at the moment - should be forced to be stretched further.”
Under the new purposal Council would receive funding from July 2012 to June 2014 totalling $100,000 per annum as part of the grouping with Ararat Rural City Council and Pyrenees Shire Council.
If the funding is split in equal portions the shire would need to contribute between $60,000 and $65,000 from its 2012/13 and 2013/14 budget to fund a full-time Emergency Management (Fire) Coordinator position.
Cr Kevin Erwin said it was disappointing the year long program would not be extended in its current format.
“This new arrangement will reduce council’s capacity to plan for and respond to emergencies, which is why we are doing everything we can to retain full funding,” he said.
“The program was initially designed to ensure that councils in regional Victoria were better placed to plan for and respond to future emergency and natural disaster.
“If we are forced to share our Emergency Management (Fire) Coordinator with two other councils it will affect our ability to carry out these tasks.”
“I don’t think it is fair that the rate payer should have to foot the bill to pay for a topping up the funding for this position, given that a lot of them are volunteers within the fire service and the SES and they already pay a fire service levee,” Cr Erwin said.