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Urban and rural fire services to merge

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 28/04/2016
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Urban and rural fire services are going to be merged into a single organisation called Fire and Emergency New Zealand.

Household insurance levies will increase from 2018 to pay for it and there will be a new levy on motorists.

Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne, who announced the merger, says the levy increases are still to be set but they won't be significant.

He's given an assurance there will be no job losses and says existing entitlements will continue under the new organisation.

The merger will cost the government $303 million over the next four years and the money will be in next month's budget.

It's the biggest shake-up in the service for more than 70 years and Mr Dunne expects the new organisation will be operating by mid-2017.

Mr Dunne says insurance levies will become the main source of funding for the new organisation, replacing a variety of funding sources for rural fire services.

The motor vehicle levy is being introduced to cover the cost of attending road accidents.

"It's to recognise that increasingly the fire service is first responder to motor vehicle incidents," Mr Dunne said.

"One of the criticisms of the existing fire levy is that householders pay a levy and why should they pay for someone to be extricated from a motor vehicle."

There will be new anti-avoidance measures in legislation Mr Dunne is bringing to parliament.

He says there will be "pretty stiff penalties" in line with those in the Income Tax Act.

People who don't have insurance on their homes will continue to be covered.

"You can call them freeloaders if you like, but we're not going to move to a user-pays fire service," Mr Dunne told reporters.

Mr Dunne says he has the backing of urban and rural firefighters for the merger, which follows a year-long review.

"The feedback we've had is that everyone supports the change."

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