CFS cash cow

It is a worrying indication of the state of SA’s finances that an emergency such as the Sampson Flat Bushfire has led to a 9% tax hike through the Emergency Services Levy (ESL).
Admittedly the Adelaide Hills Council is crying poor and has introduced a 1% levy in its 2015/16 budget to pay for a $500,000 blow-out in bushfire-related tree removal costs.
But its levy is a one year only increase and, to be fair, $500,000 is a significant hit for an organisation with an income of about $40m compared with the State Government’s much larger annual budget.
This ESL increase is not a once-off, its a permanent fixture that comes on top of some significant increases last year when subsidies were axed.
It is, effectively, a tax increase that is being framed as a much-needed income source for the poor old CFS volunteer.
The CFS Volunteers Association is understandably annoyed at having the goodwill of its members used to mask political expediency.
It has even accused the Government of double dipping by pointing out that the Treasurer Tom Kousantonis has failed to identify that past bushfire emergencies have been paid for through a contingency fund and that Federal funding is allocated when a State of Emergency is declared, as was the case with Sampson Flat.
What is particularly galling is that by using the ESL to squeeze out more money from householders, the Government is adding to the misinformation and ill-will about the work of the CFS from the general population, particularly after last year’s price hike.
Many city and regional people don’t understand that CFS members are volunteers.
A recent letter to the editor in a metropolitan paper complained that Hills residents should pay for the Sampson Flat fire because they made the lifestyle choice to live in a high bushfire zone.
This year the ESL raised about $266m of which the CFS received $66m and the MFS – which provides a 24-hour paid service for a predominantly urban population – received $124m. Having well resourced emergency services should be a right for all residents, rural and metropolitan, and the Government should stop using the ESL as a convenient cash cow.