Mayor backflips on slugging fire battlers with council fees
A Southern Highlands mayor has backflipped on his refusal to waive development application fees for resident who have lost everything in bushfires and want to rebuild on their scorched land.
Wingecarribee Mayor Duncan Gair said he believed those who are uninsured or whose insurance does not cover development application fees should have the costs either waived or refunded by the council, but was yet to propose this to other councillors.
"It is going to be suggested, it could even be done on Wednesday night. I'm happy to ask the council to consider it," Mayor Gair said.
"I believe that councils should look at all avenues of being able to fund that, if it needs to come out of the mayoral relief fund I will consider that."
During the past six weeks, 60 homes have been destroyed in the Wingecarribee Shire Council area and more than 250 buildings razed.
Exeter resident Sara Haslinger, whose house burnt down on January 4, was quoted almost $10,000 in council fees for approval to build on her scorched block.
"We have been horrified (by their response)," she said.
"There has been a complete lack of empathy from the council, from these people in management who are getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars each year."
Ms Haslinger was given a "fee quote estimate" of $9562 on January 20 by the council.
This included $2645 for a development application, a $2450 construction certificate, a $2625 long service levy and other smaller costs.
"Like most people here, it has been a struggle since the fires destroyed everything. We want to rebuild our lives here and to have another ridiculous council fee on top of that is disgusting," Ms Haslinger said.
Councils in the Blue Mountains, Bega Valley and Shoalhaven City Council have waived these costs for residents whose homes were destroyed.
"I couldn't consciously charge people who lost everything," Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill said. "We have subsidised these costs to a point where we (as a council) will actually be losing money."
On Wednesday, Wingecarribee Shire Council will vote on how to spend their $1 million federally-funded disaster grant.
The lion's share of the funding is due to go to a $5000 land rate waiver over two years for fire-affected property owners.
Independent Wingecarribee Mayor Duncan Gair previously defended the allocation of federal funds when contacted by The Daily Telegraph.
"We have yet to receive a formal development application. We cannot use previous building plans as some of the homes are between 50 and 80 years old," he said.
"Our response to the bushfires has been exemplary.
"We distributed $30,000 in 24 hours from the mayoral relief fund."
At the time of publishing, the council had contributed $50,000 to a mayoral relief fund for residents affected by the fires.
This fund has also received an additional $45,238 in donations from the public.
A Local Government NSW spokeswoman said the department did not comment on individual council matters.