ADUR and Worthing councils chief executive Alex Bailey could receive a £21,000 pay rise – bringing his salary to £125,000.
Senior councillors will debate whether to grant the pay increase, which equates to a rise of around 20 per cent, at a meeting on Thursday.
A report to the joint senior staff committee argues Mr Bailey’s current pay ranks at the lower end of the scale for shared councils.
But some councillors, along with UNISON, have expressed concern at the level of the increase, at a time when public sector workers face minimal rises.
UNISON Regional Organiser Sarah McGreal said “The ongoing pay freeze, along with the increased cost of travel and household essentials has meant a living standards crisis that has left a huge hole in household finances.
“With many council workers having to rely on their credit cards, friends and family, or pay day loans just to get through the month, UNISON don’t feel that it is appropriate to be discussing such a huge pay rise for the chief executive of a local council.”
Mr Bailey was promised a pay review upon his appointment in 2013, while both council leaders said they were ‘very impressed’ in an April review.
Including national insurance and pension contributions, the proposed salary would cost £161,020 in 2015/16, resulting in an overspend in the salary budget.
The cost may be absorbed into the joint strategic committee’s revenue budget, which is currently underspent by £160,000.
Conservative councillor for Tarring Tom Wye said: “I would have great difficulty giving anybody in this country at the moment a 20 per cent pay increase in one go. I think it’s excessive.
“He may be worth it and if that is the case phase it in over five years or so.”
The report lists a number of key ‘achievements’ to support its recommendation of granting the increase.
Among them are overseeing the creation of a new leadership structure, saving £330,000 and ‘enhancing the cultural offer’.
He also took up the post amid the NCP legal dispute saga, which ended with former executive head of technical services Cliff Harrison – who was sacked for gross misconduct – successfully claiming unfair dismissal at a tribunal.
UKIP Castle ward councillor Charles James said: “It’s a very positive report but how does that reflect all the people that work underneath him? They are just as valuable in providing services for residents and they have only been given a one per cent rise.
“I think it needs some explaining.”
A council spokesman said the review came at a time of ‘strong revivals of interest in their economic and social development’, along with attracting ‘significant’ government investment.
They added: “It is also set against the backdrop of the councils attracting - and retaining - the best talent to help free them from reliance on government grant funding by 2020.”
Taxpayers’ Alliance research director Alex Wild said residents may not receive the proposed rise well.
“Residents will raise their eyebrows when they learn that the chief executive may bag a 20 per cent pay increase at a time when serious savings have to be made,” he said.
“The leadership of both councils deserve credit for resisting the temptation to increase council tax in recent years when far too many others have done just that, but to justify this pay increase they’ll have to continue to do so for some time to come.”
The report was compiled in association with SOLACE – the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives.