South Burnett Regional Council have tossed out amendments made in April to a Councillor expenses policy, and reduced expense allowances back to the lowest level seen since 2012

July 1, 2020

South Burnett councillors have taken an axe to new expense allowances, reducing them to their lowest level since 2012.

Changes to the Councillor Remuneration Policy were passed at a special meeting held in Kingaroy on Wednesday morning.

The changes reverse an updated version of the policy adopted at April’s general meeting.

Under the new scheme, meal allowances will be cut by half; phone expenses will be capped at a maximum of $2000 per annum; and car allowances will be paid at rates set by the ATO and based on log books rather than a fixed weekly amount.

An extra $1000 mayoral phone allowance has been discontinued, and a $2000 mayoral hospitality allowance has been cut in half.

During the meeting all Councillors said they were disappointed with the negative reaction they had received since the amended policy was passed in April.

“There has been a lot of pushback from the community, and I get that,” Cr Kathy Duff said.

“But over the 16 years I’ve worked here most Councillors have never claimed the full amount (of their expenses entitlements).”

Cr Roz Frohloff agreed.

“I want to get it on the record that the breakfast, lunch and dinner allowances are not an everyday thing,” she said.

“They only apply when we go away for a conference or a meeting somewhere (outside the region).”

Cr Kirstie Schumacher said Cr Frohloff was correct, and all the allowances were set at a maximum level that most councillors never reached.

“Just because it’s in the policy doesn’t mean councillors will claim it,” she said.

“I was also very disappointed by the cheap comments made by some people in the community about councillors having their noses in the trough.

“Like my colleagues in this Chamber, I have worked enormous hours late into the night and on weekends since being elected, and I do this because I love my community.

“This job is more to me than money. I had a corporate career and I walked away from it because my heart is in this region.

“So I challenge anyone who made those comments to come forward or give me a call, because this will not be tolerated at all in my term of council.”

Cr Scott Henschen said he would also like to make a remark for the record.

“Can I say as a new Councillor that in all the study I did leading up to the 2019 election, I found no one had abused the (expenses) facility by any measure and I was very pleased to see this,” he said.

“I also agree with Cr Schumacher that we’re not here to put our snouts in the trough as proposed by some in the public – we’re here to do a job.”

Mayor Brett Otto said he had also been saddened and disappointed by the community’s negative attitude.

He wanted to make it clear that expenses allowances existed to cover the cost of carrying out legitimate Council work, and those costs were often unavoidable.

The changes adopted on Wednesday were:

  • Meal allowance (to be paid when Councillors are out of the region attending to Council business): $17.50 for breakfast (down from $35); $25 for lunch (down from $50); and $50 for dinner (down from $100). As in the past, all must be receipted.
  • Mayoral hospitality allowance (an extra allowance for the Mayor when entertaining visitors on Council-related business): $1000 per year (down from $2000).
  • Phone allowance: Capped at $2000 per annum for the Mayor and all Councillors, supported by phone bills (the Mayor formerly had a $3000-a-year phone allowance).
  • Car allowance: Now set to the ATO’s car expense rate of 72c per km (supported by log books), scrapping weekly allowances of $100 for Div 3 and 4; $180 for Div 1 and 2; and $250 for Div 5 and 6. Mayor Otto emphasised that he was saving ratepayers around $20,000 a year by using his own vehicle.

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6 Responses to "Councillors Slash Allowances"

  1. Robinlyn  July 1, 2020

    I just want to say that all the council are doing a great job. I don’t think people realise how hard you work. Thanks to our Mayor for being out there. I have seen you around all the South Burnett by Facebook. My Councillor Kathy Duff is such a great lady, always giving 100% to her job, as I am sure the other Councillors are doing as well. Just would like to see the Councillor who replaced Ros to come and say hello to the people of Wondai sometime. Sorry I can’t remember his name. I am active in Wondai because I live in the Wondai area.

    Reply
  2. Robyn McNally  July 2, 2020

    Good to hear. We all need to tighten our belts and when councillors are elected to office and the first thing they do is give themselves an allowance increase it does not sit well with rate payers. Shame about the water stand pipe fiasco. So if this can be reversed surely the stand pipe charges can be decreased Back to say $6 a pod and then maybe incremented over a 3 or 4 year period.

    Reply
  3. Lucy  July 2, 2020

    I watched this special meeting online yesterday morning. Although I don’t quite agree with some of the arguments brought forward I congratulate the Council members for reversing their decision and adjusting the expense allowances downward.

    As several of the councillors have pointed out repeatedly, no one has ever claimed the maximum of the previously allowed expense limits. So why on earth did you have to increase these levels in the first place, creating a lot of bad feeling in the community? In hindsight, you may agree that it was not a very smart move.

    Reply
  4. Nina Temperton  July 2, 2020

    Congratulations Mayor and Councillors on being willing to reconsider a poor (or any) decision. It takes integrity and courage to admit mistakes publicly and learn from them. Like everyone in a new job knows it takes time to learn the ropes and have the ability to judge when the “we’ve always done it like that” mentality needs to be challenged. Communications with the residents have improved greatly (though with a long way further to go). Well done and keep it up.

    Reply
  5. Mark Luck  July 2, 2020

    I am on your team, Lucy, with your honest review. This action is more like the “Team South Burnett Best Practice” we have all been looking for.

    Similarly I look forward to resolving the standpipe water issue. Another decision taken without reference to ratepayers at the suggestion of council officers. Water is a difficult issue and how Councillors and Mayor could make a decision without looking at all residents’ situations is surprising to say the least.

    During the meeting yesterday, mention was made of council members not receiving a pay rise as they were covered under statutory provisions. Could the Mayor or CEO please confirm that salaries do not have to be as per recommended rate and that council may set their payments at a lower level?

    My wish is that salaries to the Mayor and Councillors remain at the existing level. We are all stretched financially and members offered themselves for election on the existing level and should complete at least one year before review.

    I trust each Councillor and Mayor are going through the 2019-20 budget line by line looking for where savings can be made.

    Good luck Team South Burnett.

    Reply
  6. Greg Pomfret  July 2, 2020

    Communication with the general public is key to many decisions made by the SBRC. We understand not all your decisions are going to please everyone, but when the majority of residents are appalled then you must revisit your decisions.

    Never forget it’s not your money – it’s the rate paying citizens of the South Burnett. So we all have the right in a democratic system to voice our opinion, which I personally will do every time if I feel anyone is wrong.

    Happy to see you have righted a big wrong in this current economic climate.

    Reply

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