Council officers' pay is fair - mayor

Last updated 09:35 23/01/2014
Opinion poll

What do you think about current pay rates for Nelson's mayor and councillors?

Too much

Not enough

About right

Vote Result

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How much do the mayor and councillors get paid? And who decides this? Is it true that some councillors get paid more than others?

Rachel Reese responds:

Most of us are pretty uncomfortable talking about what we get paid or asking about another's remuneration. It is a very private matter. But when you are in public office, public disclosure is entirely appropriate.

Mayor and councillor remuneration is disclosed in the annual report, one of council's least read documents. So it doesn't surprise me that people don't know what we get paid.

First up, we don't decide our own rates of pay. The Remuneration Authority is an independent body set up by parliament to handle the remuneration of key office holders, including mayors, councillors, Members of Parliament and judges. Recently the authority undertook a major review of local government remuneration rates.

Payment is a calculated on a council size index - including population and expenditure. A mayor and base councillor salary has been set.

Unitary authorities like Nelson are paid a loading to recognise the additional functions of a regional council.

The significant demands of the deputy mayor's role have been acknowledged, as have the extra responsibilities of chairmen and chairwomen.

Nelson City Council remuneration is: Mayor - $121,500; Deputy Mayor - $49,980; Chair - $43,375; Councillor Base Salary - $35,700.

Elected members are considered self-employed. There is no superannuation, sick leave, annual leave or access to group medical schemes. ACC payments are met by the individual.

Some people will find these remuneration rates unnecessarily high; possibly people who remember when councillors received no remuneration.

Others looking at these numbers will reflect that demands of time and financial constraints are one of the reasons they are unable to put themselves forward to serve on a council.

The mayor's role is paid as a fulltime position. That's a fair reflection of the job. It takes fulltime hours and more. The necessary tools to do the job are provided - office, computer and phone. If you take a car you take a salary deduction for private use. In my opinion mayors across the country are fairly remunerated.

Councillors' roles are part-time positions but there are times of the year when the roles revert to fulltime. Long days of hearing submissions on policy change and setting rates are part of the job. So is night-time reading.

The deputy mayor's job description is a long one and, for much of the year, it is closer to fulltime than part-time.

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It is also worth noting that a chairman or chairwoman's role goes well beyond chairing a meeting. They are responsible for driving the business of their committee. They oversee budgets and time frames to ensure council's priorities are achieved. They meet regularly with senior managers and key organisations outside of council. They respond to phone calls and emails received in the Office of the Mayor.

They also need to be ready and available to respond on council's behalf to media inquiries.

Councillors receive a small annual allowance for communication costs. A mileage allowance is restricted to longer distances than generally relate to Nelson.

A small payment is available for councillors who sit on resource management plan change hearings to acknowledge this additional workload.

Councillors trained as resource management commissioners are paid for hearing resource consents. These costs are met by the applicant for the resource consent. The Authority sets the rate for these hearings at $100/hr for the chairman or chairwoman and $80/hr for a panel member.

At Nelson City we do not make elected member appointments to directorships on council controlled companies. No elected member is barred from applying but you must earn the appointment on merit, competing against other applicants.

In the interests of representative democracy I do believe mayor and councillor roles warrant payment. A very small pool of people in our community have the financial independence to undertake full or part-time roles without being paid. That pool would not be representative of the community.

However, I agree with the Remuneration Authority that remuneration should be modest and not set at market rate.

People seeking election to councils need to be driven by a commitment to their community.

If your motivation for standing for council is the salary then you're applying for the wrong job.

Email your questions to theleader@nelsonmail.co.nz

- Nelson

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