Editorial:Question mark over pay rises

21:30, Jan 25 2012

Kapiti Coast ratepayers should be asking themselves one simple question after council chief executive Pat Dougherty pocketed a $44,000 pay rise.

It is this: If the councillors who voted for the increase really thought it could be justified to those who must foot the bill, why did they make their decision behind closed doors then try to keep it secret?

Kapiti pensioners, especially, will query the generous 18.2 per cent rise, which takes Mr Dougherty's salary package to $285,000. The extra $44,000 a year, backdated to August, is more than twice the annual superannuation for a single person living alone and comes as Kapiti Coast homeowners face a 12 per cent rate rise next year.

Coasters should also question why Mr Dougherty was deemed worthy of such reward given he has presided over costly budget blowouts on major projects. The council will have to sell land to fund the $5 million increase in the expected price of constructing a planned aquatic centre, upgrading the civic centre has ballooned by more than $1m and work on Otaki's Main St, described as a "fiasco" by locals, is so far $660,000 over budget.

Kapiti ratepayers might also wonder at the extraordinarily blase attitude of councillor Peter Ellis, who apparently thought upping Mr Dougherty's pay by $846 a week was of such little consequence, he cannot even remember how he voted.

Councillors who did support the rise say it was based on expert advice that Mr Dougherty was underpaid compared with other chief executives in similar-sized councils. If so, it demonstrates that the amounts now paid to what used to be known as town clerks are clearly excessive.

The usual benchmark for remunerating high-ranking public officials is the salaries of private sector chief executives. On one level, that is fair enough. Kapiti Coast District Council, for example, employs about 260 staff, about the same as a moderate New Zealand company.

There is no comparison, however, between the roles and responsibilities of a company boss and a council chief executive. Those heading private companies must generate income and return profits and are accountable to shareholders for their performance. A council chief executive manages a budget funded mostly from rates and oversees spending and services. Kapiti Coast ratepayers might well ask whether Mr Dougherty has done that as well as they would like, given the budget blowouts on his watch.

Kapiti Mayor Jenny Rowan says a key factor in Mr Dougherty's pay rise was his workload for the year ahead, but that also deserves scrutiny. His tasks will include completing the district plan review, preparing the long-term plan, working with the NZ Transport Agency on the Kapiti Expressway and progressing water supply and metering projects.

They are undeniably important jobs, but nothing more onerous than those faced by chief executives at other local authorities. If Mr Dougherty's salary for simply doing his job must be increased to match what those chief executives are earning, then he is not being paid too little, they are being paid far too much.

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