Local politicians are overworked and underpaid and rapidly losing interest

Local politicians are overworked and underpaid and rapidly losing interest
Many complained about the €130,000 salary for a possible directly-elected Mayor. However, the current €30,000 current salary does not make it as an attractive position as many might think.

Though the people of Cork City have had their say on high salaries and direct elections, there is still a need for change in City Hall

Over the last few days, the new groupings in Cork City Council have met to discuss how they will approach the next few years of city politics, including who will wear the Lord Mayor's chain. 

However, a number of candidates who would definitely be in the running have pulled back, privately saying that it would cost them money to be Lord Mayor. 

In the past, the Lord Mayor's office was a lucrative position with remuneration of an €87,000 TDs salary added to the €18,000 councillors' salary.

That was dropped down to a €30,000 top-up after 2014, giving a total salary of about €48,000.

People might say 'boo, hoo' about a salary 1.5 times the average industrial wage, but you have to consider where councillors are coming from. 

If a councillor has a full-time job that pays, for example, €40,000 per annum, they will have to give that up for a year if they become Lord Mayor. With the €30,000 top-up, they'll have a net loss of €10,000 during their year in office.

For many councillors, the loss of income and disruption to pension contributions on top of the long hours away from their family and personal lives - the Lord Mayor's schedule runs from early morning well into the night - has made serving as first citizen and honour some cannot justify. 

That's on top of all the issues with councillors' pay to begin with. Four city councillors in their 20s and 30s voluntarily stood down last weekend. Outside of the low-pay and high-demands of a fairly powerless job of being a councillor, they can concentrate on building stable, more lucrative careers outside politics. 

The obscene wages paid to politicians in the past and many national politicians right now has given people a warped impression that people are only in it for the money.

But at the local level, people are overworked and underpaid and rapidly losing interest in continuing their pursuit of politics as a career.

Though it's a hard sell to voters, compensation for local politicians needs to be improved if we want to attract a diverse group of councillors that reflects the demographics of the city. Otherwise serving in City Hall will become the luxury of the rich, the retired, and career politicians who see it as a bridge to a higher office. 

But with great pay should come great responsibility. If we start to treat councillors as professionals instead of part-timers, we should give them more to do as well. 

There have been calls for a citizens' assembly on mayoral reform after the defeated plebiscite, but we should expand its remit to cover wider reforms to make the City Council work better for everyone, politicians and people alike. 

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