Stoush over Berry RFS station funding

Shoalhaven Rural Fire Service volunteers pack the gallery at the extra ordinary council meeting on Tuesday night.
Shoalhaven Rural Fire Service volunteers pack the gallery at the extra ordinary council meeting on Tuesday night.

More than a dozen Shoalhaven RFS volunteers made their presence known at a council meeting on Tuesday night, where councillors were expected to make a decision on the Berry and Broughton Vale station.

They were treated to a heated debate, but the issue remains in limbo due to a procedural motion moved to delay a decision until the next meeting.

As it stands, Shoalhaven City Council is unable to fund the estimated $400,000 additional cost to build the Berry & Broughton Vale Rural Fire Service Station.

Mayor Amanda Findley explained funding from the Fire and Emergency Services Levy should pay for the bulk of RFS expenses, and any council support would see council sink into further debt.

Member for Kiama Gareth Ward was quick to weigh in on the matter.

On Wednesday, he moved a notice of motion in state parliament calling on council to support local rural fire service volunteers.

“This upgrade is necessary to accommodate modern facilities and equipment,” Mr Ward said.

“It was disappointing to see Labor and Greens Councillors voting against a motion to allocate these funds to a volunteer organisation, however I do congratulate Councillor Mitchell Pakes for bringing a rescission motion to try and find a way forward.

“Councillor Pakes showed great leadership and support for the Broughton Vale/Berry RFS volunteers, many of whom where in the public gallery at Council last night. As a volunteer himself, Cr Pakes knows how hard it is for volunteer organisations to find funds for vital projects to support of local community.

“I call upon all Shoalhaven Councillors to see sense on this issue, support this funding request and back our local rural fire service volunteers who do such a tremendous job keeping our local communities safe.”

Mayor Findley was furious at Mr Ward.

“It’s outrageous, first of all he gets involved in the Bomaderry pool issue, now this,” she said.

“It’s complete misrepresentation of the facts, there were a couple of Libs who voted against the funding.

“This is about profile-raising for Mitchell Pakes who is running for next the state election for Shelley Hancock’s seat.

“They cannot hold Shoalhaven City Council for ransom, if they want to run a campaign for Pakes, don’t do it at the expense of Shoalhaven ratepayers.”

Mr Ward denied Cr Pakes has his eye on the state seat – state preselections have been held, and Mrs Hancock has been endorsed as the Liberal candidate for the South Coast.

Mr Ward encouraged council to explore funding options, including $24 million available in the NSW regional growth fund.

“Shoalhaven Council hasn’t applied for a cent of it,” he said.