Two out of every three ratepayer dollars collected in Wagga go directly to council’s wages bill, with a whopping $40 million spent before a single light is turned on or truck is started.
However, Wagga City Council isn’t alone in spending big on staff, with the public sector regularly outpacing the rest of the jobs market on pay rises.
Griffith City Council spends 72 per cent of its rates on wages, or $844.47 per person. Leeton Shire Council spends 85 per cent ($888.07 per person) and Greater Hume Shire spends 90 per cent ($864.75 per person).
Only Albury and Junee spent less of their rate income on wages than Wagga, at 57 and 26 per cent respectively.
The head of Wagga’s ratepayer group, Lynne Bodell, said council needed to tighten its belt on wages.
“I think it’s a very bad reflection on local government when the average everyday person in the private sector has to tighten their belt but (councils) are happy to spend what we would class as excessive amounts on wages,” Dr Bodell said.
“For us in the real world, (big pay rises) and $240,000 for directors seems excessive.
“It definitely doesn’t pass the pub test, I can’t see a normal private company surviving if they spent that much on wages.”
Data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last month showed (seasonally adjusted) private sector wages rose 1.9 per cent in the March quarter, while public sector wages grew by 2.3 per cent.
State politicians were recently given a 2.5 per cent pay rise – bumping the base salary from $161,040 to $165,066 a year – as well as increases in travel and office perks, including money to spend on staff training.
It equates to $641.18 per resident of the Wagga local government area per year and that figure is tipped to grow.
Council’s draft budget revealed the total wage bill was predicted to balloon to almost $50 million in the next four years.
It comes after council general manager Peter Thompson revealed two of three of his directors had been given massive pay rises by former boss Robert Knight last year, taking the annual salary bill for the trio to about $722,000.
Councillor Paul Funnell, a longtime critic of government over-spending, said public sector wages were growing exponentially and warned it was a slippery slope for all Australians.
“I’ve argued for years that this spending is out of kilter,” Cr Funnell said.
“If it keeps growing like this it will surpass rate revenue and I don’t believe we’re getting enough bang for our buck.
“I’m not talking about the people fixing roads or doing the gardens, if I had my way we’d slash the administration and employ more hands-on workers to do what was needed.”
Having recently completed a master’s degree in business, Cr Funnell said he had seen a number of case studies that would indicate a private business run with such a high wage bill would be in big trouble.
“This sort of operation is simply unsustainable,” he said.