Rates record critics unfair: mayor

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 12:00 12/06/2014

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Palmerston North Mayor Jono Naylor says there is more to how council's perform than just numbers.

He was responding to the Ratepayers' Report, an investigation by lobby group The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union in conjunction with Fairfax NZ, the publisher of the Manawatu Standard.

The union said Palmerston North performed poorly when it comes to taking care of ratepayers, citing high rates, the chief executive's pay packet and the council having more employees per ratepayer than anywhere else in the region.

Executive director Jordan Williams hit out at the council this week, saying the city was "one of the worst performing" in the country.

Naylor said the council delivered exceptional service and worked hard to keep costs down, and the report's findings need to be carefully considered. "While the measure they use is an accurate description, you've got to be careful what assumptions are drawn."

Staff to ratepayer ratios were flawed and "complete nonsense", because figures didn't consider what services were contracted out versus those done by council employees, he said.

The city council worked hard to keep maintenance contracts in-house to ensure more value-driven, high-quality workmanship, he said.

Different councils' legacy investments and various sources of income, which offset rates, weren't considered, executive salaries were independently assessed, and a lot of factors that feed into the figures were overlooked or not well detailed, Naylor said.

"These [reports] provide a mechanism, but they don't provide a full picture and while they're useful to draw some comparisons, we all need to be careful at what assumptions we make."Palmerston North rates reflected the high level of services in the city.

Palmerston North's debt levels were well within the boundaries set by Local Government Funding Agency and the city council's credit rating was among the highest in the country, Naylor said.

In yesterday's Manawatu Standard Williams said the city council was a poor performer with a total-liabilities-to-equity ratio of nearly 13 per cent.

"Councils may argue that it's more expensive to provide services in the city than it is in the rural communities, but that argument could go both ways."

The city council had one full-time staff member for every 60 ratepayers, compared to Rangitikei District Council which had one full-time staff member for 211 ratepayers, Williams said.

Williams said the measures looked at were on a per ratepayer basis and council size was irrelevant.

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- Manawatu Standard

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