It was always going to be an awkward moment during Council’s meeting on Tuesday evening when Councillors voted on whether to give themselves a pay rise. Or not.
A report prepared by staff recommended that Councillors themselves determine the fees payable to the Mayor and Councillors for 2021/22.
The Local Government Remuneration Tribunal determined that annual fees to be paid to Mayors and Councillors during the period 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2022 could receive a two per cent increase in the minimum and maximum fees.
Cr Darlene Cook pointed out that last year, Lismore was reclassified by the Tribunal from just being a Regional Council to being a Regional Centre.
‘That classification actually gave us quite a serious increase in stipend. And that is recognizing the fact that we have a greater duty and a greater impact as a Regional City or Regional Centre than just being a Regional Council,’ she told the meeting.
You get what you pay for
Both Cr Cook and Cr Bill Moorhouse – the latter reminding Council that as he wasn’t standing again so the outcome of the vote would not benefit him – pointed out, you get what you pay for.
‘Local government struggles to attract professional experienced people to serve the community on councils because the stipends are so low compared to what you can get by getting a job out there in the real world,’ said Cr Cook. ‘The stipend awarded by the Tribunal for regional Councils is less than a single age pension.’
Cr Moorhouse said he’d like to see that Councillors and the Mayor get paid the maximum available.
‘With what we’ve got, and I shouldn’t be unkind to Councillors, but we’re not getting the talent we should have because people can’t afford to come here,’ he said.
‘So I’m saying let’s go for the maximum.’
Cr Elly Bird said she would cut to the chase and propose a foreshadowed motion, that fees are maintained at the 2020/2021 rate. Mayor Vanessa Ekins reminded Cr Bird that it was actually the 2019 rate as Councillors had voted in 2020 not to increase their stipend.
‘That’s two years without any recognition when everyone else gets 2.5 per cent,’ said Mayor Ekins.
Current stipend means the mayor also needs a day job
Cr Neil Marks said he was the one who had put it up last year that there would be no increase.’That wasn’t because of our bad financial situation, it was because we still didn’t know where COVID was taking us. However, we do have a situation that was recognized in so many different ways in the last couple of years through this council period, that we had a mayor who had to have a full time job, as well.
Cr Marks said the figures for the mayor means that they are always going to have to have a second job. ‘Most of us will have mortgages and kids and all of those sorts of things. None of us are independently wealthy because we’ve been here for too bloody long. If nothing else, we might need to have a look at a stipend for a mayor which makes it that they can treat it as a full time job.’
In a moment of confusion to some of those watching, Cr Cook’s motion for the 2.5 per cent rise failed. However, Cr Bird had no takers for her foreshadowed motion for the stipend to remain at the current rate. Then Cr Moorhouse’s new motion that Councillors and the Mayor be paid the Tribunal’s recommenced maximum was carried with support from Crs Ekins, Moorhouse, Cook and Adam Guise.