THE BIG REVEAL: What Longford's councillors really earn

OPINION: Setting the record straight

Gerry Warnock

Reporter:

Gerry Warnock

Email:

newsroom@longfordleader.ie

THE BIG REVEAL: What Longford's councillors really earn

Gerry Warnock

In an excellent opinion piece, Independent Cllr Gerry Warnock has highlighted that he and many of his council colleagues receive less than the minimum wage for working on council business

Last Wednesday our local newspaper, The Longford Leader, published an article entitled “Longford Councillors receive €486,308 in expenses”.

This is by no means a shocking article as it’s the standard reporting of figures issued by local authorities every year in respect of elected members remuneration from the previous calendar year.

To be honest, I normally ignore it and buckle down for the social media backlash that usually accompanies these sensationalised headlines! However, on this occasion I kind of said, “enough of this lads!”

People are entitled to know the actual details of these payments broken down in a factual and transparent manner.

In order to achieve this I’m going to use myself as a case study.

The article has my portion of the spend at €22,682.44 and this is perfectly correct! But let’s break down this number to get a greater insight into how much I actually received for the year 2020;

The €22,682.44 is broken down as follows:

  • €17,379.42 – Representational Payment
  • €1,000 – Municipal Allowance
  • €4,303.06 – Meetings Allowance

I’m going to take the Representational Payment and the Municipal Allowance because they are essentially a salary and as such are subject to PAYE, PRSI, USC and Public Service Pension Deductions (even though councillors are the only public servants who are not entitled to a pension).

It’s also important to note that these payments are statutory payments provided for in Local Government Legislation, drafted and enacted by Government. Elected Councillors or Council Officials DO NOT SET THESE ALLOWANCES but are statutory bound to provide for these payments in the Annual Budget.

For the purpose of this case study, the fact that I am a full time PAYE worker means that these combined payments are all taxed at the upper rates as follows:

Gross Pay of €18,382.04 minus the following deductions:

  • PAYE €6,622.77 + PRSI €735.24 + USC €1470.56 + Pension Deduction €1825.12 = Total Stoppages of €10,653.69 or 58%
  • Take Home Pay = €7,728.35 per annum/€644.03 per month/€148.62 per week/€21.23 per day (7 day week)

Now let’s have a look at the third element of the overall sum – the Meetings Allowance of €4,303.06. This is an untaxed allowance to cover the cost of travelling to statutory meetings of the local authority and other costs that may be incurred such as printing, stationary, etc…

This allowance is unvouched and the amount is determined by a defined formula based on how far a councillor has to travel from his/her registered principal residence to Council HQ. In my case I am on the lowest possible allowance as I live within 2km of HQ.

Again, these rates are determined by statutory instrument and Councillors or Council Officials have no role in determining these amounts but are legally obliged to provide for them in Annual Budgets.

So to be consistent let’s break this down:

€4,303.06 per annum/€358.59 per month/€82.75 per week/€11.82 per day

Now let’s bring all this together for the BIG REVEAL!!!

Total Take Home = €12,031.41 per annum/€1002.62 per month/€231.37 per week/€33.05 per day

Incidentally, this is the lowest possible rate a Longford Councillor can receive over a twelve month period. There was no additional income recouped for training or conference expenses.

As a Councillor I average out about four hours a day over a seven day week depending on what I’m involved in at the time, sometimes a hell of a lot more, but let’s go with four. That would set me on an average hourly rate of €8.26 based on the above. To put it in context, the national minimum hourly rate is currently €10.20.

So now that we’ve put the money to bed, why not talk about what’s not usually talked about in the media when it comes to the role of a councillor:

How about talking about the courage to put oneself forward often to be insulted and ridiculed for your efforts, but that doesn’t matter because you want to help build a better community?

Or maybe about the countless hours of family time that is sacrificed because you believe in doing your duty on behalf of the people who put their faith in you to represent them and their families?

What about the career opportunities sacrificed on the altar of public service? Not very stimulating subject matter but very real. I should know!

These are but a snapshot of the unseen and never talked about examples of what cost is involved in being a public representative.

Do I blame the local publication for not talking about these things??? Absolutely not!

Unfortunately we live in an age where these kind of truths are not sexy and sadly the majority of readers gravitate towards the more tabloid type sensationalism.

People want a target…

A villain…

That shit sells…

Fact!

As a journalist friend of mine once told me, “we’re looking for the bite!”

Local papers conform to that unfortunate reality or they die!

Sad but true….

In spite of all that, I truly believe that the integrity of the media is a supporting pillar of our democracy and I fully support their right to publish truths, even if you have to do a bit of digging to get past the sensationalism.

I have recently committed to efforts supporting the preservation of local news media, as even though we may spar from time to time, we cannot live without them! An unbiased local publication is an essential public service that I hope will persevere and thrive into the future.

I will end this spiel with one small reflection……

We all have a tendency to react a bit too quickly, and sometimes what’s read at pace might belie the truth…. So before you form an opinion at face value, try to explore things a bit more…. be curious!

Thanks for taking the time to read these musings and I hope you and yours keep safe and well in these very strange times.