Surf Coast ratepayers will foot the bill for councillors and shire staff to enjoy massages, weight loss programs and yoga classes under a new perks scheme.
Two councillors opposed to the scheme revealed it to the Independent this week, prompting the shire to issue an explanation in a media statement.
Under the program, the shire’s 217 staff and councillors would each receive cash incentives to take up activities promoting “a healthier lifestyle”.
But the two councillors have joined a Torquay ratepayers’ group in slamming the scheme.
They believe extending the perks to councillors is a slap in the face for ratepayers after council voted to raise rates 7.9 per cent in May.
Shire chief executive officer Peter Bollen said the program covered activities including yoga, pilates, swimming, quit-smoking initiatives, weight-loss programs, community gardening, massage and gym memberships.
Councillors said the money could also buy equipment including tennis racquets and bicycles.
Torquay Community and Rate-payers Association secretary Lyn Smith said the money should go back to residents instead.
“There was a feeling that any money that was saved within council should come back to the community in the form of amenities that the ratepayers can benefit from.
“I personally don’t think even the staff should be getting money for sports equipment or gym memberships, let alone councillors,” Mrs Smith said.
“It’s just not right, especially coming on the back of an enormous rise in rates.”
Cr Lindsay Schroeter was one of the two councillors who echoed Ms Smith’s objections.
“I’ve been pushing for new facilities in Winchelsea for years that I just can’t get any support for,” Cr Shroeter said.
Mr Bollen defended the scheme, saying it would promote job satisfaction, well-being and self-esteem among staff while boosting productivity at work.
“Staff are our greatest asset and we want to reward them for their efforts and create a happy and healthy workplace where we can all achieve our best,” Mr Bollen said.
A $60,000 reduction in council’s annual WorkSafe premium had freed up money for the program, he said.