Wellington's deputy mayor counted money she was already giving to charity as part of her 10 per cent pay cut donation in response to Covid-19.

The city council made the announcement on April 8 that the mayor, councillors, council chief executive and executive leadership team would all be taking a voluntary 10 per cent pay reduction by giving the money to local community groups.

The move was touted as one done in solidarity with constituents experiencing pay cuts and job losses in the pandemic's economic fallout.

Local Government elected members can't technically reduce their pay, which is determined by the independent Remuneration Authority and set in legislation.

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Instead, many pledged to donate to charity like those at Wellington City Council.

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Responding to questions from the Herald today, Wellington City's deputy mayor Sarah Free said at the time the voluntary pay reduction was announced by the council she was already making "substantial donations" to charity.

She said she added two charities to those she was already donating to, pushing her total donations to more than 10 per cent of her income.

Free said it was unclear to her the 10 per cent Covid-19 donation had to be "over and above" what elected members already gave to charity.

The Remuneration Authority Act has since been amended to allow the authority to temporarily decrease the pay of elected members, a process it has been working through over the past few weeks.

Mayor Andy Foster speaking during the Wellington City Council meeting in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Mayor Andy Foster speaking during the Wellington City Council meeting in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell

In an order issued on June 16, the Remuneration Authority listed all local government elected members across the country who will have their pay officially temporarily reduced.

Not every elected member is listed for this official pay cut for reasons including that the Authority is not reducing pay for those earning less than $100,000 a year, and it has taken into consideration donations made to charity in lieu of a pay cut.

Some elected members have chosen to switch from donations to an official pay cut, so their listed salary reflects the remaining money to be paid in their total pay reduction.

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It was during this process Free said she was made aware any donations made prior to March 25 were not valid towards her "salary sacrifice".

She said she left it up to the Remuneration Authority to work out a resolution.

Her income has subsequently been reduced to $127,004 for the next six months, which is an approximate $3000 difference from her usual annual income.

Free said she will continue her long-standing regular donations regardless.

"I'm actually really happy that this has been formalised, tidied up and the rules have been made clear. I'm more than happy to have this temporary reduction for six months along with the giving that does count."

The only other elected members from Wellington City Council who appear on the official pay cut list are Mayor Andy Foster and councillors Jenny Condie, Diane Calvert, Malcolm Sparrow and Simon Woolf.

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Condie said her name was on the list because she wanted to switch from making her donations to charity to taking an actual pay cut now the Remuneration Authority has the power to do that.

"Taking the remainder of my pay reduction this way means the funds will be available for WCC to spend on other things- it provides a direct saving to ratepayers."

Calvert also wanted to switch to taking an official pay cut rather than continuing with her charity donations.

"My remuneration sacrifice can now go directly back into making up the Council's shortfall, albeit a token amount. Donations of equivalent amounts to charities do not do this."

Sparrow and Foster confirmed they made the same switch after initial donations to charity.

Woolf did not return a request for comment.

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