Otago rural fire regions might amalgamate

CHE BAKER
Last updated 05:00 05/09/2013
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Poll: Otago's six rural fire authorities may be rolled into one if an amalgamation proposal is accepted, making it the largest rural fire district in New Zealand.

This month five Otago district councils - Central Otago, Clutha, Dunedin City, Queenstown Lakes and Waitaki - will consider a report recommending one enlarged rural fire authority.

Central Otago District Council chief executive officer Phil Melhopt started discussions about the proposal with the National Rural Fire Authority and district councils in 2010.

A review was conducted and key stakeholders, including forestry companies and Federated Farmers, were consulted and a business case report prepared for each council to consider.

Chief executives of the rural fire authorities and the Otago and Southland conservator for the Department of Conservation have agreed in principle to support the amalgamation.

A report by Melhopt says 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 from July 2014. 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 was seven full-time equivalents, compared to the current six.

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 authorities.

"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," Dudfield said.

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