Bushfire victims are being priced out of their own homes by a combination of government red tape and levies, according to farmers, builders, and insurance brokers.
G.J Gardner's Darren O'Donnell said many of his Tumbarumba clients could not afford to pay the various compliance costs, and were therefore unable to rebuild their burnt-down homes.
Mr O'Donnell said he is currently rebuilding houses for about 20 Tumbarumba residents, but that around 10 people had simply been priced out of the community.
"A lot of the clients I have dealt with at the start were very underinsured from the get-go," Mr O'Donnell said.
"That was a tough thing for us. We just could not rebuild for that amount of money. They either pack up and go or they're renting - they just can't afford it."
Lower Bago farmer Gavin Willis said the recovery effort was being hampered by government levies and the resultant higher premiums and steep building costs to keep up with the new fire safety standards.
Mr Willis said it had been a hefty cost to rebuild and reinsure his family farm, which lost vast acres of grass, kilometres of fencing, several sheds, some vehicles, and 40 bales of hay to the fires.
However Mr Willis still counts himself among the lucky ones, saying some of his friends had been heavily under-insured and could not afford to rebuilt their homes at all.
"I know a family up at Willigobung who lost all of their stuff except what they could throw in a vehicle in 20 minutes. They left Willigobung and moved closer to town," Mr Willis said.
"At me mate's place they weren't allowed to do much as as far as fire mitigation goes. They just decided it wasn't viable for them to rebuild in Willigobung the way things are."
Mr Willis said his friend had been unable to carry out fire mitigation works due to the government's environmental regulations that prevented him from cutting down trees on his property.
It would have meant soaring insurance premiums for that family had they rebuilt, pushed even higher by the state government's Emergency Services Levy which Mr Willis describes as "an absolute shambles".
Mr Willis said the levy had pushed up prices for all of his friends, and that many who tried to reduce their premiums through fire mitigation were met with more "green tape".
"During the fires in Lower Bago we had a bunch of firetrucks that were just off to our west that would have been available to help us when the fires got into the valley here on new year's eve, but they couldn't get here due to the trees that had fallen on the road," Mr Willis said.
"We tried to get forestry and council to remove the trees before the fires. This has been going on for years... council people have told me they've done the absolute best they've done but they're bound by the environmental laws that are dreamed up in Sydney."
Gallagher Insurance Brokers' Caleb Richards said the emergency services levy had increased by about 20 per cent since this year's fires, meaning about half of the insurance costs were entirely composed of NSW Government levies - effectively doubling the price.
Mr Richards said this was particularly "unfair" on farmers, many of whom were members of their local fire brigades and already put more than their fair share into funding the emergency services.
"If you go out to any farm they manage all of their own fire risks - they've got firetrucks, they've got fire pumps, they have to pay that money themselves, and yet they're paying the same amount of fire service levy as someone in town who has a fire brigade around the corner," Mr Richards said.
"You put the same farm and the same house in Victoria, then they wouldn't pay a fire service levy. You can have a swing of anywhere from 30 to 50 per cent just because you're across the border."
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Mr Richards said the emergency service levy disproportionately affected farmers in rural NSW, who had to pay the same rates as someone in Sydney.
Instead of an emergency services levy, Mr Richards said it should be charged based on a property-based tax rate, saying it would be fairer for farmers in rural NSW where the values were lower.
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrettot said the emergency services levy provided crucial funding for firefighters across the state.
"Firefighters risk their lives to keep the people of NSW safe every day and it's important they receive the full support of the communities they serve," Mr Perrettot said.
"The state's emergency services have long been funded through a cost sharing arrangement between insurers, councils and the government. It's important that this continues and we look after the health and wellbeing of our frontline firefighters."
He said previous years' increases to the levies were driven by a boost in emergency services funding as well as a presumptive workers compensation scheme for firefighters who got cancer or were harmed in the line of duty.
Last year councils had been given a temporary one-year reprieve from the levies to give them time to financially recover from the drought.
The recovery process was short-lived, when fires swept through the Snowy Valley shortly afterwards, leaving widespread devastation in its wake.
In the aftermath, Lower Bago school chaplain Phylis Willis spent much of that year travelling around the Snowy Valley with Chaplaincy Australia delivering care packages, home-baked goodies, and emotional support to the victims.
She lost much of her own home to the blaze, but said she had met many others who had lost everything to the fires and were still in precarious living circumstances.
Many of them were unable to afford basic necessities such as firewood, with their supplies having gone up in smoke during the fires.
Some were living in rentals or relying on the kindness of strangers to keep a roof over their head, as well as the odd care package from organisations such as Vinnies or BlazeAid.
"It's a really tough time through COVID. People were struggling trying to get their farms back up and running and coming to terms with the devastation," Ms Willis said.
"We found a lot of people appreciated that someone cared, and that they weren't forgotten through the turmoil of trying to recover from the horrific fires and going into a lockdown."