Right ol' stoush over pay rises

WHEN Cr Tony Williams proposed a freeze on the pay of his colleagues he sparked the most animated debate since amalgamation.

There have been some committee room stoushes in the past two-and-a-half years, on subjects as varied as rate rises, dog attacks, Sunday trading and Milbi.

But nothing stirs the pot for councillors quite like the state of their own bank balances.

On Wednesday evening they were asked to give the nod to a 3% rise in their basic pay – equating to roughly $3000 a year apiece – as recommended by the State Government’s independent remuneration tribunal.

Council-watchers expected the recommendation to be approved quickly because the councillors had had no increase in pay since they were elected back in March 2008.

In fact, as several were quick to point out, their take-home pay has been slowly eroded over time by a sliding reduction in the amalgamation allowance awarded at the start of their term of office to compensate for additional workloads associated with the upheaval of joining four separate councils into one.

The allowance, which had been worth about $9000 a year at the start, will disappear altogether by the end of their four-year stint.

But Cr Williams not only found a seconder for his self-sacrificing proposal, in former Livingstone mayor Bill Ludwig, he was backed by councillors Glenda Mather, Cherie Rutherford and Graeme Brady, much to the obvious annoyance of those who felt it was high time they had a pay rise.

At times the verbal battle across the council table got rowdy, especially when Cr Stephen Schwarten continually shouted down Cr Ludwig for laying the blame for high rates increases at the door of the State Government.

And it was all too much for Cr Greg Belz, who questioned the motives of some of those supporting a pay freeze.

“There’s been enough grandstanding here today to build the seating for the CQ NRL bid stadium,” he called.

Afterwards he said he could hardly believe all the fuss over what amounted to no more than a handful of dollars a week.

The row touched on a variety of subjects. Cr Williams thought the pay rise should wait until it was clear that the global financial crisis had run its course.

Cr Ludwig said people were hurting and asked his colleagues to show some leadership.

He said the amalgamation allowance was a red herring because it was a bonus and they had all known it would disappear over time.

Cr Mather said those on fixed incomes believed councillors were well paid, and they were.

But the two former union organisers in the room – councillors Schwarten and Svendsen – vigorously dismissed all the arguments.

Councillors were council employees and deserved a rise just like the other workers and they should show some faith in the economy, they said.

In the end the pay-freeze resolution was defeated by six to five, and the proposal to accept the resolution was won by the same slim margin.

The vote means that the new basic pay for Mayor Brad Carter rises to $150,120. Deputy Mayor Rose Swadling’s new basic pay is $101,170 and the nine remaining councillors are on $91,380.

From July the Mayor’s amalgamation allowance drops from $9730 a year to $6490, Cr Swadling’s reduces from $6890 to $4590 and the councillors will see their bonus dwindle from $6170 to $4120.

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