Plans for a new rural fire authority spanning Otago have
struck opposition from Dunedin city councillors, who have
refused to sign up until concerns about the new structure were
Councillors considered the proposal at Monday's full council
meeting, but debate erupted over whether the council should
agree to proceed without first consulting its community.
There were also concerns about a lack of detail on the
benefits of the new approach and insufficient information
about the possible relocation of some fire appliances away
from smaller centres.
Eventually, with councillors divided and staff still seeking
answers, it was agreed to let the proposal lie on the table
until more information could be considered at the next full
council meeting on October 7.
The decision meant Dunedin City Council and Queenstown Lakes
District Council were still to sign up to the proposed new
structure, while Central Otago, Waitaki and Clutha District
Councils had all agreed to.
The restructuring, if agreed, would result in Otago's
existing rural fire authorities - run by individual councils
and the Department of Conservation - being replaced by a
single new authority spanning Otago.
The new entity would have its own chief executive, staff and
dedicated vehicle fleet and was expected to deliver an
improved service over time.
However, a report to Monday's meeting noted councils
would be expected to transfer their vehicles and equipment to
the new authority, which could then be permanently relocated to
other areas if needed.
''This may have an impact on rural fire appliances based at
Middlemarch, Waikouaiti and Portobello that are currently
available for the use of the volunteer fire brigades in those
towns,'' the report said.
A report to all councils detailing the proposal had been
prepared by Central Otago District Council chief executive
Phil Melhopt, on behalf of Otago's rural fire authorities.
However, Cr Richard Thomson told Monday's meeting he was
worried there was insufficient information about the likely
relocation of appliances, as well as the costs, benefits and
Mr Melhopt said the focus initially was on amalgamating
management and governance structures.
It was ''premature'' to talk about the future location of
appliances, although that would be considered by the new
authority in time, he said.
Cr Thomson said that suggested there was reason to be
concerned, albeit later, and worried a loss of appliances
could lead to community requests for the council to fill the
''That's why it seems to me quite a relevant factor.''
Cr Jinty MacTavish agreed, saying she wanted reassurance
communities would not have a drop in service levels.
Mr Melhopt said he could not promise no change, although
responses to motor vehicle and urban fires would not be
compromised in favour of the response to rural fires.
Council infrastructure and networks general manager Tony
Avery said it was likely there was too much equipment in some
parts of Otago and not enough in other parts, and the new
entity would address that.
However, councils would still have input through
representation on the new authority's governance board, he
Councillors were asked to decide between consulting the
community before making a decision on the restructuring, or
agreeing to the proposal and allowing the national rural fire
authority to consult on the change.
Mr Melhopt urged councillors to move quickly and agree to the
proposal, allowing the structure to be introduced by
mid-2014, ahead of the following summer's fire season.
Any further delay would reduce the new structure's lead-in
time to summer, and ''make us uncomfortable'', he said.
However, councillors baulked at the choice, some supporting
the new structure while others wanted more information before
''I'm reluctant to hand over our power to make that decision
without having those questions appropriately answered,'' Cr
Cr Lee Vandervis supported speedier action, saying having
idle resources in small communities while others were in need
However, after Cr Syd Brown failed in a bid to secure a
compromise, councillors instead agreed to leave the matter to
the October 7 meeting.