Regional and rural councils have called on the NSW Government to stop ‘cooking the books’ on assets belonging to the Rural Fire Service (RFS) at a Local Government NSW summit this week.
The call follows the receipt of qualified audits by around 40 councils, due to their refusal to include the depreciation cost of assets they neither own nor control, LGNSW President Darriea Turley AM said. A ‘qualified audit’ means the auditor was unable to assess some aspect of the council’s financial records, and they can create serious financial repercussions if they limit councils’ ability to obtain loans and the grants they depend on to serve their community.
“This financial sleight of hand, where depreciation costs are dumped onto council accounts to make state government budgets look better, is misleading and disingenuous.”
“The bottom line is that equipment ordered by; used by; maintained by; and disposed of by the RFS is the property of the RFS, and the depreciation needs to be recorded accurately in their accounts.”
“But despite this, the NSW Government continues to dig its heels in on the issue and heap more financial uncertainty on the local government sector at a time when councils facing unprecedented natural disasters can least afford it.”
“The government needs to do the right thing: take back control of the RFS assets and restore accounting transparency to the process.”
Cr Turley said LGNSW and councils across NSW wholeheartedly support the efforts of RFS volunteers who do a heroic job to keep communities safe.
“This is purely about questionable accounting practices adopted by the NSW Government,” Cr Turley added.
“Requiring councils to record in their financial statements the total annual depreciation expense of RFS red fleet assets – estimated to be $145 million in the past year – will result in many councils having even less money to provide and maintain other community infrastructure and services.”
“That hurts everybody, including the RFS volunteers.”
Cr Turley said the LGNSW is willing to work with the government to resolve this discrepancy as quickly as possible so that councils can concentrate on the recovery needs of communities right across the state.