Councillor’s pay outstrips shire community support
By Ben Bell
“WHERE has all my money gone?” blurted a work colleague upon receiving her group certificate from the company’s accountant last month.
A group certificate, as you are probably aware is a summary document provided by employers around this time of the year that states as clear as day how much money you earned over the past 12 months.
In most cases, this figure also equates to how much money you have spent on bills that year too because, as many people can attest, your household expenses each month always seem to be equal to if not larger than your income.
As a result, there are times when you feel like you are not getting ahead financially no matter how much you try.Read more
“Ten years without a pay rise for Western Australian workers,” screams the headlines of one national newspaper.
“Worst business conditions for small and medium enterprises since the Global Financial Crisis,” says another.
“Growing number of Australians behind in their mortgage,” says a nightly TV news presenter.
They are not telling us anything that we don’t already know – that it is tough out there and putting ever-increasing pressure on family finances doesn’t help.
Unfortunately, it is becoming more common to hear about people in our local community skipping meals in order to make ends meet or going without heating this winter just to save a few dollars.
After all, when times are tight, every dollar matters.
That is why I continually bang on about decreasing shire rates in Toodyay and for greater fiscal discipline by the council.
And I will continue to do so because I am staunchly of the opinion that our community in Toodyay is rapidly approaching the limit of its capacity to absorb higher and higher rates.
Rather than push households to the brink by doggedly pursuing a policy of continuing to increase council rates every year simply because that is what the shire’s Long-Term Financial Plan says we should do, perhaps the time has come for us to pause, take a breath and review the effectiveness of the shire’s current expenditure practices.
Did you know, for example, that 10 per cent (or $650,000) of your rates this year will be used solely for the purpose of making loan repayments for the eight separate bank loans that the shire currently has?
Some of these loans will run for the next 20 years, meaning that the legacy left by today’s councillors is that my kids will likely still be paying off their loans via increased rates when they grow up and have families of their own in Toodyay.
That is not the sort of inheritance the next generation of Toodyay ratepayers deserves (or can afford to pay, to be honest).
And the shire’s debt of almost $6 million does not include the additional $700,000 bank overdraft that was approved by the council last month.
In contrast, are you aware that only one cent in every dollar that you pay in rates this year will go towards community sponsorship?
Just one cent.
I find this extraordinary because I honestly believe that supporting community events should be the cornerstone of what any shire does.
After all, not only do these community events attract tourists to our town (which, in turn, injects money into local businesses), these events are also an intrinsic part of what makes Toodyay the vibrant town it is.
Imagine what a doubling, or even tripling of the shire’s financial assistance to community sponsorship could do for our town.
It is easily achievable with a sensible re-allocation of the rates money already collected by the shire, and I think would deliver much greater benefit to our community than, say, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars each year towards updating the shire’s fleet of passenger cars.
Let’s look at this from a different angle, perhaps.
In this year’s budget, the shire will spend almost three times more on paying councillors’ wages, their council meeting refreshments and the like than it will spend on supporting community events.
I will leave it with you to decide whether that seems balanced to you.
What I can say, though, is that the State Salaries and Allowances Tribunal has determined that the total councillor wage bill for Toodyay can start at about $70,000 per year.
Anything above this figure is solely at the discretion of council.
Thus, there is a potential budget saving of $130,000 plus right there that could be redirected to fund community-related activities.
Hang on a second – are we really paying councillors something like $130,000 in wages more than the suggested base?
Isn’t this around the same figure to be raised by the shire this year as a result of the new rate rise?
Could an argument be made that perhaps the council may consider reducing its wages next year and give the community a one-year breather instead of inflicting a further rate rise on them?
Like I said, there appears to be numerous options available to the council to improve the services the shire provides the Toodyay community without having to place additional financial hardship on families via a campaign of unsustainable rate rises.
All it takes is fresh eyes and willingness to think outside the box.