By Luke Voogt
Surf Coast Shire councillors could receive a 2.2 per cent pay rise during the COVID-19 pandemic after approving the raise in their 2020-21 budget.
Only Winchelsea ward councillor Heather Wellington opposed the budget, which also includes a two per cent rates increase.
Cr Wellington said she had never voted against a budget in 12 years as a councillor, including eight at Surf Coast Shire and four at Geelong council.
“But I am going to vote against it tonight.”
Cr Wellington cited examples of the financial impact of the pandemic Australia-wide and of prominent public servants taking pay cuts as reasons why councillors shouldn’t approve the raise.
“I don’t support budgeting for an increased allowance for councillors,” she said.
“I will … donate [the increase] to the Geelong Community Foundation.
“At least we can say to the community we understand the position that many of you are going to be in and we’re not going to accept any increase when it is offered to us.
“Which clearly we expect it will be, because it’s in the budget.”
Cr Wellington also took aim at the rates increase on top of what she called “already extremely high rates”.
“There are going to be a lot of people in hardship,” she said.
“It’s simply not fair to our community to plough ahead as if nothing is changing.”
Cr Wellington began discussing the shire’s asset backlog before mayor Rose Hodge interrupted.
“Thank you Cr Wellington, you’re well over time,” she said.
Cr Hodge went on to praise council officers for the “huge amount” of work they put into the budget in difficult circumstances.
“We started this December and started many briefing sessions in January … and COVID-19 changed it all.”
Cr Hodge said the shire had allocated more than $2 million “to help our community” through the pandemic and had avoided having to borrow money, unlike “many other councils”.
In closing, Winchelsea ward councillor James McIntyre acknowledged some members of the community were experiencing hardship.
“Our COVID-19 package, I think, goes a long way in assisting to address that. I certainly don’t want to stand in the way of program such as that.”
The 2020-21 draft budget had initially proposed a 2.5 per cent pay rise for councillors but the adopted budget revised that increase to 2.2 per cent.
The Victorian Independent Remuneration Tribunal must approve all pay rises.