NEWCASTLE councillors could ring in the New Year with a hefty pay rise, if a proposal to bump their pay by 16 per cent receives the green light at Tuesday’s meeting.
Lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes could be in for an even bigger windfall, with a proposal to lift her mayoral allowance by 24 per cent.
The changes, if approved, will fatten her overall pay packet from $102,610 to $125,500 next year.
It comes even though the vast majority of councillors across the state are only eligible for a maximum pay increase of 2.5 per cent in 2017/18 – the cap set by the Local Government Remuneration Tribunal.
Newcastle councillors qualify for an increase far beyond that peg, because they have been recategorised as a ‘Regional City’ following the state government’s local government reforms.
Independent Cr Allan Robinson came out swinging on Monday, vowing to lodge a code of conduct complaint against Cr Nelmes if she backed the increase.
“I’ll be the first at the party when Newcastle council becomes insolvent again,” he said.
From 2010 to mid-2017, pay for Newcastle councillors rose from $23,360 to $26,213, while the lord mayor’s allowance climbed from $68,083 to $76,397.
Over the seven year period, that represented an average annual pay increase of 1.9 per cent.
A report to be tabled at Tuesday’s meeting will suggest councillors take up the maximum increase allowable by the tribunal next year, which would lift councillors’ pay to $30,500 and the lord mayor’s allowance to $95,000. Cr Nelmes receives both the mayoral allowance and the councillor allowance.
The report also suggested that councillors do away with choosing how much of the pay rise they take annually, and automatically take the maximum amount allowable by the tribunal until 2021.
“Setting the fees ... for the remainder of the council term provides for greater efficiency and administration,” the report said.
Cr Nelmes defended the proposed hike, emphasizing the rates were set by an independent tribunal.
“I personally believe the process should remain independent of council altogether, similar to state and federal parliaments,” she said.
“For successive years Newcastle Labor councillors have voted to forgo any increase to councillor allowances ... and have encouraged other councillors to do so as well.
“It should also be noted that councillors are not paid superannuation and that Port Stephens and Lake Macquarie councils have also adopted the same independent tribunal recommendations.”
Newcastle councillors already voted to forfeit their 2017/18 pay increase in June and put the money towards public works in Wallsend.
It remains unclear why the matter has returned for another vote. Any pay rise taken will come into effect from January 1, 2018.
The story Lord Mayor set for big pay rise as Christmas comes early for councillors first appeared on Newcastle Herald.