Volunteer firies ‘left in the lurch’
THE Gold Coast's volunteer rural firies say they have been left in the lurch after a council decision to stop their annual levy worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Last month Gold Coast City councillors resolved to cease the collection of the $1 levy from ratepayers in the next financial year, which had previously gone towards operational costs of each group.
Gold Coast Rural Fire Brigade Group officer Samuel Eitz said the decision took the region's 15 volunteer brigades by surprise, particularly after such a harrowing fire season.
He claimed they would now have to look at other ways of sourcing the funds he says are vital to the operation of the program.
"We don't have any commitment that there is funding coming from anywhere else so this is a lot to us," Mr Eitz said.
"This money goes toward things like electricity bills, building maintenance and other items for the station.
"A collection from ratepayers is what we do instead of fundraising, and a lot of people have told us they don't mind kicking in that dollar so I don't understand why this decision has been made."
Mr Eitz said while he understood there was an argument that the funding should be coming from elsewhere, the volunteers shouldn't have to miss out while local and state bodies negotiate.
"Ultimately we don't mind where it comes from, volunteers just want to know the money is there when they need it."
A City of Gold Coast spokesman said the council decided funding of the Volunteer Fire Brigade's operational expenses was a state government responsibility during the 2020/21 budget deliberations.
"As a result, the separate charge for the Volunteer Fire Brigade, levied to Gold Coast ratepayers, will cease after this financial year.
"A year will allow sufficient time for alternative funding sources to be identified," the spokesman said.
The rural firies levy isn't the only collection made by the city as part of a rates bill. The city also collects the Emergency Management Levy for the state government.
Outside of the levy an estimated $50 million per annum is provided by the state government to RFS and State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers according to the Queensland Fire Service.
These funds cover personal protective clothing, communications equipment, co-funded and fully funded firefighting equipment, fully funded vehicles, station construction grants, training, insurance and other assistance.
Member for Mudgeeraba Ros Bates said the state government should have engaged with council on the matter before the levy decision was made.
"Rural firies copped a $13 million statewide cut last year from Labor and without a state budget this year, they face an uncertain future," she said.
"Labor's had five years to consult with Gold Coast City Council.
"Maybe the next time the Premier is on the Gold Coast she can talk to the Mayor about it."
Originally published as Volunteer firies 'left in the lurch'