A commitment from mayor Hamish McDouall not to use his casting vote powers has sunk any chance of Whanganui District Council paying at least a living wage to all staff.

Councillors debating this year's annual plan were tied 6-6 when voting on whether to ask for a report on bumping up its 72 minimum wage staff to the higher living wage.

McDouall was in favour - and voted for the living wage report - but didn't use his extra casting vote to break the deadlock even though he had the power to - the second time he had regretted not using it.

All 13 members of the council were present but Philippa Baker-Hogan abstained from voting because she was not present when the living wage submission was made.

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McDouall later explained to the Chronicle he had made a commitment not to use his casting vote this term as a way to keep the option in standing orders.

A majority of councillors wanted the casting option gone from council's standing orders but McDouall committed not to use it if councillors agreed to keep it.

He said he did that because he believed it would be hard to reinstate a casting vote power in the future if it was removed.

Living Wage Whanganui again made an oral submission to councillors, asking them to pay staff at least a living wage of $21.15, instead of the minimum wage of $17.70 an hour.

Councillors were told 72 staff were on the minimum wage, and 41 of those were fulltime.

Bringing them up to the current living wage would increase rates by at least $125,000.

Council officers had recommended the chief executive continue to set wages while councillor Alan Taylor said there was nothing in the Local Government Act asking councils to "be an arm of income redistribution".

But councillor Josh Chandulal-Mackay pointed out the act also didn't ask councils to get involved in economic development.

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"But it's one of our core things that we do."

He, councillor Kate Joblin and deputy mayor Jenny Duncan said the living wage was a policy issue, and since ratepayers have brought it up councillors have a duty to consider it.

The vote to leave wages to the CEO was lost, with only councillors Vinsen, Cleveland and Young for it.

Chandulal-Mackay had put up an alternative, to ask staff to report on the option of paying a living wage. Half the 12 councillors were for that, and half against, and it was also lost.

McDouall wasn't the only one disappointed about that. Joblin said council should "man up and take the issue on". Duncan said it was the second year in a row that councillors had passed up the opportunity to have staff inform them about the living wage.

Councillor Hadleigh Reid had a second alternative motion. He said the living wage was something every employer should think about, and it had motivated him to increase the wages of his own staff.

"I think it is really important that we lead, and that we make it relevant for Whanganui."

He had calculated a living wage for Whanganui, based on expenses - especially rent - being lower than the New Zealand average. He proposed that council aspire to pay staff at least $19.56 an hour - 7.5 per cent less than the 2019 living wage of $21.55.

This didn't find favour either. McDouall said it was "very surgical" and not a policy matter. CEO Kym Fell said it was "too prescribed", not the business of councillors and would be "a can of worms".

The status quo will continue, with him deciding on wages.