AS SOON as a pay rise is announced for mayors, councillors or the council chief executives, the vitriol starts gushing.

Social media erupts with comments like: "Bit of a joke — really so greedy"; "How many hours on average per week do they do to get these salaries" etc.

It's all relative. To someone struggling along in life, a $33,000 salary for a councillor, $122,000 for a mayor or even a mindboggling $287,000 for the chief executive just seems outrageous.

The outraged might be even more perplexed to hear that Auckland Council chief executive Stephen Town is on a salary of $690,000.

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I wonder if Whanganui's Kym Fell works any less hard than Town? I would suggest not.
People might also be outraged to know that an Auckland city councillor is paid $109,000 and I bet some of them do not work as hard as some of our councillors here in Whanganui.

I hear the ranting and raving about all this money, but really this is not a lot of money. In the real-world, chief executives like Domino's Don Meij receive $40 million a year.

I suspect many people expect our mayor and councillors to do the job for nothing and would probably still complain if they got half of what they get now. Let's face it, people in these roles have a great big target on their backs.

Councillors do not vote themselves a wage increase — this is set by the independent Remuneration Authority, and this body has its hands tied regarding pay structure. Without a law change from Parliament, nothing will be any different.

For sure, Auckland has a much bigger population than Whanganui and this is what defines what they get paid, but that does not mean an Auckland councillor does any more than one from the Whanganui district.

Look at it from the other side — some councillors work really hard at their jobs and are worth more than they are paid.

By paying councillors just $33,000 a year, we limit the market for suitable applicants.

To be a councillor, you generally either need to be independently wealthy or own a business that allows you time to put into civic duties. That limits who can apply.

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I suspect that if councillors were paid a wage they could actually live on, we would have far more capable candidates coming forward for election.

A salary of between $70,000 and $80,000 a year would not be unreasonable, and it would not be noticed in anyone's rates. In fact, it would mean an increase in rates of just half of 1 per cent.

There will always be those who argue that the remuneration is adequate compensation for what is supposedly a part-time job.

Technically, it may indeed be a part-time job but, from what I have seen of the more diligent councillors, to do an effective job takes far more than a part-time effort.

The public perception may be that turning up to one meeting every six weeks is all the job involves, but there is far more work required behind the scenes than most people realise.

The real problem with local government is that we continue to elect people who simply should not be there.

Steve Baron
Steve Baron

Some are not worth a cent, if the truth be known. Some do not put in the time and effort to do the job properly, and don't do their research on issues.

There are those who stand for council for the wrong reasons — sometimes it's a hidden agenda; sometimes simply an ego trip — not a burning desire to serve their community.

Getting elected to council has always been, and will probably always be, a popularity contest. The best known people, regardless of their intelligence, experience, skills and ability, are usually elected.

From my perspective, the current system for setting these salaries is not fair — our councillors are the leaders of our community, the people who make important decisions on our behalf, and who are managing an organisation worth nearly $1 billion.

So we need to be far more selective in whom we chose to represent us, and we also need to be able to appeal to the best talent available.

Steve Baron is a Whanganui-based political commentator, author and Founder of Better Democracy NZ. He holds degrees in economics and political science.