Councillors vote for a three per cent pay rise but not without dispute
Mid and East Antrim councillors have voted in favour of a three per cent pay rise despite calls for no increase.
Ballymena SDLP Councillor Eugene Reid urged the elected members to forego the increase approved by the Department for Communities which is higher than the one per cent proposed for public sector workers.
Cllr Reid told last week’s meeting: “I think we must as a group of councillors forego this increase and leave it as it is and keep the allowance as it stands.”
However Mid and East Antrim Mayor Councillor Peter Johnston said: “There is a mechanism within our constitution that should any individual member wish to forego their entire salary, that can do that on an individual basis.”
Chief Executive Anne Donaghy pointed out that it is up to an individual councillor or party and any members wishing to do so should contact the Head of Finance.
Carrickfergus Ulster Unionist Councillor Robin Stewart said that he was “quite happy” to second Cllr Reid’s proposal.
Bannside Sinn Fein Councillor Ian Friary advised against “back slapping pay increases”.
He commented: “I do not think we should be giving ourselves a pay rise at the height of a pandemic.”
Carrickfergus DUP councillor Alderman Billy Ashe said: “The pay structure with regard to councillors needs to be looked at. Everybody gets the same money but everybody does not do the same business.
“I think it is time whereby councillors were rewarded for what they do and deliver rather than councillors’ work second and do other things with their time and not available for council duties.
“I think it is time to write to the Department to suggest that councillors’ allowances be looked at differently.”
Cllr Stewart responded: “Is he suggesting people should not have a day job. Is that what he is saying?”
Cllr Reid indicated that he had been suggesting the council shows “solidarity with those working on the frontline for the past year who have had a derisory increase”.
“I was suggesting in solidarity with them we forego this, that we are on the same page as them and stand beside them.”
The Chief Executiuve noted:”This is a statutory direction. It is up to the individual councillor to decide what they feel is appropriate.”
She also pointed out that “not everybody may be in the same financial position”.
Carrickfergus DUP Councillor John McDermott asked if it was the case that there was not a pay increase last year.
“Half of that is around what the NHS was offered.”
He went on to say that he donates a percentage of his councillors’ pay to charity every month..
“I do not need Cllr Reid to tell me what to do with my money”, he added.
Larne Lough Alliance Councillor Robert Logan said: “I think it is up to the individual.”
He proposed that the recommendation should be accepted.
Cllr Stewart stated: “I am withdrawing my seconding, I will just not accept the rise myself. It is obviously going to pass anyway, so let it go.”
Cllr Logan’s proposal was seconded by Cllr McDermott.
The councillors’ basic allowance will rise from £15,071 to £15,486 per annum.
A special responsibility allowance of £1,000 per month is available to the Mayor, £650 per month to the Deputy Mayor as well as payments to all committee Chairs of £500 and Vice Chairs, £300 per month.
A dependants’ carers’ allowance of up to £927 monthly for specialist care will be available.
A mileage allowance of up to 62 pence per mile by car is also payable.
In response to a question tabled by Bannside Ulster Unionist councillor Alderman William McNeilly regarding the cost to Mid and East Antrim Borough Council of holding the special meeting on March 12 was £3,658.23 and the cost of a full meeting is £4,373.24.
by Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter