Following the lead of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, some mayors and councillors are taking voluntary pay cuts, but some are saying that the move does nothing to help ease the burden on ratepayers.
Elected members of local government do not have the ability to reduce their pay, which is set by the Remuneration Authority.
Councils are required to allocate remuneration for their councillors from a pool of funds set by the authority. For the Tasman District Council, the pool for 2019-2020 was set at $624,528.
All of that pool must be used for councillors’ salaries, with the remuneration authority setting a base salary of $37,417 for councillors, however, a base salary of $44,930 was agreed upon by councillors late last year. The remainder of the funds are allocated based on various councillors’ responsibilities and duties. Chairs and deputy chairs of committees, for example, received more. Mayor Tim King’s salary is set separately by the Remuneration Authority.
While councillors can’t currently reduce their pay, the Prime Minister confirmed that a proposed bill would allow both MP’s and councillors to take pay cuts is currently being drafted.
Instead, some are choosing to donate a slice of their salaries to charities, to take pay cuts in solidarity with many of their constituents.
Richmond Ward councillor Dana Wensley donated up to 15% of her salary to Nelson Foodbank and Child Cancer Foundation.
“Funding for non-profits has dried up, and I recognise the best way to help is for people who are still working like myself to donate a portion of their salary to charities in need.”
Tasman Mayor Tim King says he understands the point being made by members of the community asking about councillors taking a pay cut, but that it’s a personal decision for councillors to make.
“The way that it’s [remuneration] is decided is for a government agency to decide, and it’s that way so that people don’t play politics with it.”
Tim says that it’s important to remember that councillor salary is there to encourage diversity.
“You don’t want being on the council limited to just those who can afford it. Even locally – we’ve seen an increase in diversity recently, and you want people with different perspectives, so this is quite an important part of that.”
“For some people taking cuts its easy – for others it can be very difficult – this is why it’s set nationally rather than locally,” Tim says.
“Everyone has different circumstances – some people have families, some are retired, some have different sources of income, some are on a single income, so you can’t apply the same standard to everyone.”
While councillors taking a pay cut won’t have an impact on rates, Tim says that other moves, like the council’s decision to have a zero rates increase for the next year, can be a significant way to ease the burden on ratepayers.
“There is now a huge amount of work for council to do to work that out, to continue core service delivery, to manage our environment and future projects. That is where the gains are to be made for ratepayers, for us to be more efficient and productive and then limit revenue increases. That is going to require a huge amount of work and effort.”