Payments to councillors up 96% in three years

Geoff Appleby

Shire CEOs and councillors set their own salaries, fees and allowances under guidelines set by the WA Salaries and Allowances Tribunal.
Between April 2013 and April 2016, the tribunal’s settings have generally reflected rises in the Consumer Price Index. 

In that  period the CPI rose by between 2 and 3 per cent a year. 

In July 2013, the shire president Kevin Hogg received a meeting attendance allowance of $1816 a month, deputy president John Prater $750, and the other seven councillors each received $550. By July 2016, just three years later, the present councillors had awarded pay rises of 126 per cent for President Dow, bringing his meeting attendance fee and allowances up to $4112 each month, 125 per cent for Deputy President Therese Chitty (up to $1690) and 96 per cent for councillors (to $1080). 

They all get an extra $1000 a year for telephone and IT expenses, whether or not they have spent that amount and more money if they need child-minding services or travel or other allowances, plus an IPad.

President David Dow and his wife, Councillor Judy Dow, the only two councillors representing the Central ward,
receive a minimum, annual joint income from the shire of just under $65,000. 

There was a time, not that long ago, when councillors were volunteers, and were reimbursed only for expenses when they lodged their receipts. 

There is nothing against the rules in either the CEO or councillors voting themselves increases, even of that magnitude, nor is it against the rules for a husband and wife team to be the sole representatives for a particular

However, with shire rates scheduled to rise by 5 per cent every year until 2023, the question must be asked: Are the massive pay hikes justifiable or deserved, or are we paying them all far more than they are worth? 

Clean-canvas law: Now that we are to have our own Toodyay Health Local Law 2017, the thought arises: Shouldn’t we grab the chance to clean out the antiquated items in the bureaucratic cupboard? 

When drafting a law, it saves time if you modify an existing one. But, with a clean canvas, provisions echoing down from a bygone age can be finally expunged – provisions such as the requirement for a person in control of a public vehicle to keep it “free from vectors of disease” and for sufficient hot and cold water to be supplied to the copper in the laundry of a lodging house. 

The new move means that penalties for breaches of local health laws will be standardised so that one size fits all. A person who fails to do anything required under the new law, or does anything not permitted, commits an offence and can be fined up to $2500. 

The good news is that if you wish to apply to the shire for a licence to operate a morgue, or establish an offensive trade, you will find the necessary application forms available from the shire council offices. 

Budget review: Last month it was reported that the CEO Stan Scott withdrew the mandatory budget review from the council meeting before the shire president could request a mover for the acceptance motion. The review, published in the agenda, was dated March 17. 

The budget review is a requirement of the Local Government Act and must be completed between January 1 and March 31 each year. 

A revised version of the budget review, dated April 11 was presented to council at the April meeting. It contained an additional 25 ledger items, with explanatory notes added to the original review, which had been submitted by the CEO only a couple of weeks earlier. 

The additional items totalled an extra $1,920,390 of updated revenue, expenditure and adjustments, over and above the March review. 

The role of councillors is to scrutinise, review, question and if satisfied, approve shire business, not to just blindly accept whatever the administration serves up.

Not one councillor asked why the budget review had been withdrawn in March. This month the best that our illustrious councillors could do was to point out several typographical errors. Not one councillor asked a single
question regarding the actual budget review although there were any number of questions that should have been asked. 

In response to the typos, which are pretty common in Toodyay Council agendas, Mr Scott accepted the amendments and volunteered the information that some of the budget notes needed correction because
expenditure items had been designated as revenue and vice versa. 

He added that this was not a problem because the notes are not sent to the Local Government Department.
Mr Scott has still not adequately explained why he ‘redesignated’ $40,000 of year-to-date revenue in last month’s shire accounts. 

By a careful examination of the accounts, we deduce that the $40,000 which went missing from the shire’s February YTD ledger entry under Legal Cost Recovered reappeared in Miscellaneous Income. 

This was the $40,000 ‘legal costs recovered’ when former shire president Charlie Wroth agreed in August last year, without any admission of wrong-doing, to allow the shire’s insurance company to pay the settlement and all of his defence costs. 

However, the CEO thinks that revenue from ‘legal costs recovered’, which has its own general ledger designation, is more suited to ‘miscellaneous income’. He has now added Mr Merrick’s settlement of $20,000, which was agreed to in December under similar terms to Mr Wroth. 

The Supreme Court action resulted in the shire receiving $60,000 from its own insurer, with its insurer paying the defence costs of Messrs Merrick and Wroth at a net cost to ratepayers of $511,037.82.

In the budget review, insurance premiums are expected to rise by $11,565. 

Had Mr Scott and President Dow, who jointly assumed carriage of the Supremejointly assumed carriage of the Supreme Court action, complied with Section 8.41 of the Local Government Act which requires the approval of the CEO of the Local Government Department, before the instigation of legal action against former employees or councillors, it is extremely unlikely that this court action would have been allowed to proceed. 

Gravy train: Later in the meeting, councillors decided who would have the best seats on the gravy train to the annual local government jamboree at the Perth Convention Centre.

President Dow got in first and self-nominated; Cr Rayner also got the nod for a seat in the first-class section. Crs
Judy Dow and Rob Welburn got guernseys as reserves at the August talkfest.

Our councillors work very hard for their meagre fees, and little perks like this are small reward for their selfless work on our behalf.

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