4 September 2013
Otago’s five district councils and the Department of Conservation will consider a report this month recommending the amalgamation of Otago’s six Rural Fire Authorities (RFAs) into one enlarged rural fire authority.
The amalgamation project, led by Central Otago District Council Chief Executive Phil Melhopt, started with discussions between the National Rural Fire Authority and the Otago RFAs – Central Otago District Council, Clutha District Council, Dunedin City Council, Queenstown Lakes District Council, Waitaki District Council and the Department of Conservation Otago (DOC) – in early 2010.
The review process included significant consultation with key stakeholders, including the major forestry companies and Federated Farmers. The review process concluded with a business case report being prepared by Local Government consulting firm Morrison Low. The majority of Morrison Low’s recommendations were referred to each council for adoption.
The chief executives of the existing Otago RFAs and the Otago/Southland Conservator for DOC have all agreed in principle to support an amalgamation and to recommend this to their respective governing bodies.
If approved, the National Rural Fire Authority will gazette an Enlarged Rural Fire District for Otago, which will be the single largest rural fire district in the country.
In his report Mr Melhopt said the years of review by the project team had identified clear benefits to be realised through the amalgamation of the existing RFAs into a single enlarged Otago rural fire district.
“Through scale there are opportunities to improve the delivery of rural fire services across Otago. Improved governance, training, succession planning and risk management are key opportunities. While initial operating costs will be higher than they are currently, efficiencies of scale and improved resource allocations are expected to drive costs down in the future”.
An implementation plan has been drafted that provides for a transition to an enlarged rural fire district effective 1 July 2014. All local authorities and DOC will be asked to agree to a three-year funding commitment based on existing contribution ratios. The proposed staffing for the enlarged authority is 7 full-time equivalents (FTEs), compared to current FTEs of 6.
National Rural Fire Officer Murray Dudfield said the National Rural Fire Authority was pleased to see the progress made by the Otago stakeholders to merge the six rural fire authorities into one.
"The identification of where the boundaries are between the current authorities will be removed and with one Rural Fire Authority for Otago this will be less confusing to both landowners and the general public," said Mr Dudfield.