A Bay of Plenty council whose youngest member is 57 years old has been described as "selfless" and "progressive" after voting in a decision said to have a huge impact on democracy in the region. Reporter Kiri Gillespie was there when the votes were carried and investigates what this will mean for current and future councillors, and representation as a whole.A council whose youngest member is 57 years old has voted to allow future elected members the chance to be reimbursed for childcare "because it's the right thing to do".
Western Bay of Plenty District Council passed a motion to create a childcare allowance for elected members, which will take effect after this year's local body elections.
The policy allows for the reimbursement for childcare allowance payments to help enable elected members of council and community boards to attend meetings, attend workshops or working party meetings, or to attend other meetings for the purpose of council business.
The allowance is set at an hourly rate of up to the Living Wage (between $15 and $21.15) to a maximum of $6000 per qualifying child, up to 14 years old, a year.
Western Bay mayor Garry Webber said the council, and many workplaces, made allowances for mileage so it only made sense to do likewise for childcare.
"It's just the right thing to do. If you want to get young people involved, you've got to make sure they are compensated appropriately."
Webber acknowledged the decision last week was one that was made with future elected members in mind.
Councillor Don Thwaites confirmed he was the youngest councillor at 57 years old and he hoped he wouldn't be the youngest on the next council.
He said he looked forward to more diversity and hopefully that was made easier with the allowance.
Governance manager Kirstie Elder told the council that members of the Young Elected Members Group, which represented people aged 40 and under, raised childcare as a key hindrance to carrying out elected members' duties.
"They considered the lack of childcare support could, and did, impact their ability to be able to stand and carry out their functions as members."
Elder said reimbursement of childcare expenses might encourage participation by younger candidates and foster diversity.
Elder's message was echoed by Local Government New Zealand.
A Local Government New Zealand spokesman said the Remuneration Authority recognised concerns around the lack of diversity in local government, "which has flow-on effects to both candidate and voter turnout at elections".
"One of the ways they have addressed this is by allowing councils to vote on a childcare allowance, to encourage more candidates with young children who may not stand otherwise."
Other councils that have adopted the allowance include Greater Wellington Regional Council, Kapiti Coast District Council, Nelson City Council, Manawatu District Council and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council.
Tauranga mayor Greg Brownless said the city council did not have such an allowance "because there was nobody in that position [of needing childcare]".
Rotorua Lakes Council did not respond to requests for comment.
New allowance welcomed by mum of three standing for council
Juggling parenting with representing the community will be a balancing act made much easier for the likes of Monique Lints if she is successful in this year's local body elections.
Lints is running for a seat on the Western Bay of Plenty District Council but it was not a decision easily made, primarily because she has children, she said.
A childcare allowance for elected members such as the one passed by the council last week would have a huge impact on parents like her, she said.
Lints is mum to Aiden, 9, Dan, 8, and Levi, 6.
"In the grand scheme of things they are very young and it was something that definitely put me off at first from putting my hand up for a council position. But with my family's support, we have been able to make it work. Not a lot of people are that lucky so this is definitely a step in the right direction."
Lints' husband Grenville has given up work to help her contend for a Te Puke seat.
"Most families these days have to have both parents working. It's really important to have a child cared for in supportive ways ... if elected and with this [allowance], you've got that community support as well," she said.
"There are a lot of new faces wanting to represent [in this year's elections] and for Western Bay to be leading that is awesome. It's selfless, out of the box and progressive thinking, which is great to see."
Several councillors spoken to by the Bay of Plenty Times referred to Lints' nomination as part of their reason behind voting for the allowance.