Some might call it spin, some might call it altruism, the Bega Valley Shire councillors have given themselves a pay rise. But it is not about them, it is about attracting young women to serve on the council, so their argument in favour of the pay increase went at the June 25 council meeting.The majority of councillors (Cr Russell Fitzpatrick was the exception, and Greens Cr Keith Hughes was absent) voted to increase their allowance by $900 a year bringing it to $17,930 a year while Mayor Bill Taylor will get $39,110 a year. All up it amounts to a $200,480 cost to the ratepayer.
The councillors chose to take the maximum annual fee that regional rural councils are lawfully permitted to take.
While there was no mention of it in the chamber, the councillors are also entitled to travel allowance, mobile phone allowance and are provided with iPads and printers.
Cr Michael Britten moved that council accept the pay increases.
Cr Liz Seckold said: ”I want to remind everybody this is not a salary – it is an allowance. It is a very small amount of money. It is an allowance to help you get around the shire and repair your car. You are virtually a volunteer. This small amount of money might encourage a few more young women as it might help pay for childcare. They shouldn’t be discriminated against.”
Cr Sharon Tapscott called it a “minimal” increase and had pondered whether or not to accept it.
“Then I thought we didn’t give ourselves a pay increase last year. I think we need to recognise there is a lot of effort in what we do and if we want to encourage other people to come on board, young women, other women who might be able to change to a part-time job, indigenous representatives.
“I didn’t come here for the money, but it costs my family business to have me here, someone has to cover my absence and that costs a lot more than $17,930 a year. So in retrospect I am happy to support it.”
Cr Fitzpatrick spoke against the motion.
“I give up a lot of money more than I earn from being a councillor. We are looking at a tight financial situation (for the council) and we heard this morning (at a council workshop) how hard it is to service our toilets and looking at council finances into the future. So for a lousy $900 more, it shouldn’t be an increase we are taking. I’ve never voted for a pay increase and I won’t be this time either.”
Cr Kristy McBain said the money to cover the pay increases was in the budget so affordability was not an issue.
“If we want to attract genuine community minded professional people to roles like this there needs to be an incentive.
“I believe councils should not be for retired people even though they also bring a lot with them, but there should be a mix of younger people, so I think by increasing the allowance by a small amount it may see more people standing for council.”
Cr Taylor said that if a councillor chose not accept the increase he/she could reimburse the council.