IT IS pleasing to see more Toodyay shire councillors paying closer attention to monthly financial reports, as shown by questions from Cr Rob Welburn and Cr Eric Twine at last month’s council meeting.
Cr Twine in particular seems at last to be finding his voice after 18 months’ relative silence at council meetings, and we commend him for it.
The meeting started with public ‘questions on notice’, which might be better termed ‘questions without answers’ because the council seems to have learned the art of how to evade a straight answer from Question Time in Canberra’s Federal Parliament.
Toilet mural: We are to have a mural on the shire’s new Charcoal Lane public toilets.
Concept drawings were tabled and after prolonged and slightly confusing discussion it was agreed to proceed with the project.
However, Cr Sally Craddock is to be congratulated for persuading other councillors that the shire should seek public comment before endorsing a final design, which she said should relate to and express Toodyay’s identity.
Morangup upgrade: Morangup Hall will be upgraded, and permission was granted for a Morangup cabinet maker to operate from premises in McKnoe Drive for a six months’ trial as long as he doesn’t annoy neighbours by making too much noise.
Showground camping: Overflow parking for up to 10 caravans will be allowed on a former hockey pitch at the Toodyay Showgrounds for up to three nights on busy weekends when the town’s two main caravan parks are full.
Unpowered sites will be available behind the showground pavilion on the former playing field which was moved in 2013 because part of it covers an Aboriginal burial ground which is now cordoned off.
About 100 people are buried in unmarked graves at the site, which was officially recognised in 1916 and reaffirmed a an Aboriginal burial ground in 1953 before being used as the town’s hockey pitch.
Dunny doors: The shire’s new local health law got another outing and slowly grinds on as councillors resolve time-consuming issues such as dunny doors next to kitchensand rainwater flowing onto pavements and neighbouring properties.
The next step is to call for public submissions, including by making the new health law available for ratepayers to inspect at the shire office and in local public libraries, and by advertising it in a newspaper circulating generally throughout the district, as required by law.
Going postal: Toodyay is to switch to postal voting for the next local shire council elections in October.
The motion was carried 6-2 with Cr Paula Greenway and Cr Craddock opposed.
Cr Craddock said her problem with postal voting was that everybody is sent ballot papers and candidate profiles but that didn’t mean that all voters were as “engaged and informed” as if they voted “in person” at a council ballot box.
She suggested a postal ballot would encourage ‘donkey’ voting, and that the extra $10,000 cost of a postal ballot run by the State Electoral Commission instead of the shire would be better spent on educating people to become more informed about and engaged in local government.
Cr Welburn put up the best argument for postal voting by pointing out that many Toodyay electors live out of town or in Perth – postal voting meant they wouldn’t have to make a long, sometimes inconvenient trip to vote or forego their franchise.
Postal voting would also make it easier for elderly or infirm local people to vote.
Unlike in State and Federal elections, voting in WA local government elections is not compulsory.
Pay freeze: Also on a positive note,councillors seem to have heeded community concerns about their pay levels and ruled out further increases this year.
They didn’t go as far as to cut their payments but it’s a good start anyway.
The shire’s recently launched Toodyay Community Newsletter appears to support President David Dow and his councillor wife Judy being paid a total of $65,000 a year for what are supposed to be part-voluntary jobs.
The newsletter implies we should be grateful our councillors awarded themselves only 80 per cent of the maximum payments allowed.
Maximum and minimum council pay scales are set by the State Salaries and Allowances Tribunal, which says fees, expenses and allowances “are not intended to be full time salaries for council members – there is a recognised element of voluntary community service in the role of council members”.
The Tribunal sets a minimum annual meeting allowance of $7612 for all councillors like ours, and an additional annual allowance of $1015 for presidents.
Applying this to Toodyay would mean that all our councillors would get $634 a month and the president an extra $85.
This would save ratepayers about $46,000 a year in payments to the shire president and his wife, and nearly $91,000 overall when applied annually to all nine councillors.
These savings don’t include other allowances paid to all councillors for phone, internet, travel and other expenses.
Our bush fire brigade, St. John Ambulance and State Emergency Service volunteers don’t get paid yet these men and women put themselves in danger’s way because of a fundamental commitment to their local community.
Unless there is a justifiable reason to pay themselves at the higher level, surely community-minded councillors would think towards the lower end of the scale.
Volunteers are unpaid not because they are worthless but because they are priceless.
It used to be this way with councillors.