Council denies huge pay hike

COUNCILLORS’ wages will not go up 17% in 2013, a Southern Downs Regional Council spokeswoman clarified yesterday.

While the Daily News is still waiting on the full budget detail, after initially being told no further detail would be released, the spokeswoman confirmed yesterday confidential notes for councillors would have to be removed from the budget before a breakdown was provided to the public.

This should be complete in the next few days.

However an income statement released by council has an entry for “councillors’ remuneration,” which shows a figure of $741,556 in 2012 and shoots up to $865,463 in 2013 – a 16.7 percent jump.

According to the spokeswoman, this figure is not just remuneration but includes conferences, training and travel.

“The reason they have allowed a substantial amount more is because there may be a new council, which would need extra training,” she said.

“It’s not a pay increase.”

The cost of staff salaries is budgeted to take a dip in 2013, but this is being attributed to the cessation of flood-recovery workers rather than a staff cut.

“We are not budgeting for flood recover going forward after 2012,” the spokeswoman said.

In 2012 total staff wages are $24,990,168 and the council employs close to 400 staff.

The 2010-2011 budget set aside $19,993,394 for total staff wages and salaries, making the average salary about $50,000.

Chief executive Rod Ferguson warned the public saving ratepayers’ money was not as easy as cutting jobs.

“Without the staff you cannot continue to offer (the same level of services) to the community,” he said.

He said council’s employment numbers matched favourably with other similar sized councils and, apart from temporary staff engaged in flood recovery, limited increases in staff had occurred since amalgamation.

In March, the time period for a moratorium on sackings imposed by the State Government after amalgamation ended but council staff numbers have increased.

“People need to realise this region is growing at two per cent per annum, about 750 people each year, so the demands on council are ever growing,” Mr Ferguson said.

Meanwhile, the presidents of both Stanthorpe and Warwick Chambers of Commerce, once again yesterday indicated they would be reluctant to be involved in the rates advisory committee should they be called upon again as the fallout continues.

Warwick chamber president David Littleproud, while challenging speculation he was considering a tilt at the mayoralty next year, expressed concern about the effectiveness of the group.

“My contribution to this community will be through my involvement with the chamber and I will not burden the ratepayers of Southern Downs to undertake that contribution so I will not be standing for council in any form at the next election,” he said.

Mr Littleproud said that the rates debate needs to move away from “personalities and the spin that the council had indulged in and now to some hard facts”.

“We are asking the council to make the hard decision now and go and put their bureaucracy under the microscope and demand budget cuts to their departments,” he said.

“Businesses and households are so it’s time this council does as well.”

Yesterday Mr Littleproud staunchly defended questions about him missing two rating consultative committee meetings.

“Like the others on the committee, apart from the councillors, we are all unpaid volunteers who have our own businesses to run and since the meetings were run during business hours like all the others I missed a couple yes due to work commitments,” he said.

“Additionally the chamber was unable to send another representative as the council had cleverly had all the members sign a confidentiality agreement so only we could attend.

“However this also poses the question as to why they have decided to make this part of the process public when a confidentiality agreement is in place?

“I will also say if this has come from the council that it is a very poor reflection on this council’s moral fibre if it is going to denigrate somebody who has given up their time and energy free of charge to try and contribute to this community in a positive way when they themselves are taking a salary to do so.”

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