Calls to rein in fat cats...but is Super City the way to go?
The burgeoning pay packets of Waikato's local government chief executives is costing ratepayers $3.3 million a year, fuelling calls for an urgent overhaul of the sector.
But a push to create a super-city style council in the Waikato appears to be losing steam with local body watchdogs labelling Auckland's unitary council a costly failure.
Figures obtained by the Waikato Times show the region's 12 council chief executives collecting remuneration packages in excess of $199,000 a year.
Hamilton City Council chief executive Barry Harris is the region's top local government earner, pocketing $385,777 a year.
But Harris isn't alone in the six-figure pay club, with 323 council workers across the Waikato on $100,000 plus a year.
At Hamilton City Council, 81 staff earn six-figure salaries while 78 Waikato Regional Council staff pocket salaries in excess of $100,000.
Former Hamilton mayor Margaret Evans said council salaries were "unnecessarily high" and out of step with pay packets offered by the private sector.
"It's pretty glib to say we've got too many council managers and people writing policies but I think there's an element of truth to that," Evans said.
"The local government sector has a bad record in terms of understanding chief executives' salaries. Councils and mayors need to wake up and realise these salaries are unrealistic."
Although Waikato could not sustain 12 separate councils, Evans said the region needed to heed the lessons emerging from Auckland's super-city model.
"Auckland is much better than it use to be but there's a danger that organisational growth has become unchecked and is out of control."
To date, Waikato councils have shown little appetite for sweeping reforms, with the Waikato Mayoral Forum instead looking for efficiency gains and cost savings through shared services and streamlined planning.
Against this, the Waikato branch of the Property Council has advocated for the establishment of a Great Waikato Council incorporating Hamilton, Waikato district, Waipa district, Matamata-Piako district and parts of South Waikato, Otorohanga and Waitomo district councils.
Property Council Waikato president Robert Dol said merging councils would bring immediate and long-term benefits for the region and cut the salary bill paid to council bosses.
Dol said the property council's focus was on creating efficiencies and savings in local government whereas some councils were more concerned with preservation.
"Councils say they have the region's interests at heart but that's not always the case," he said.
The property council had recently decided to hold off submitting its reform proposal to the Local Government Commission as it waited for the Waikato Mayoral Forum to complete a regional spatial plan.
The plan aims to create a "collective voice" for the Waikato and analyses information in the context of where the region wants to head long-term.
Waikato District Mayor Allan Sanson, who chairs the mayoral forum, said the spatial plan was "an extremely important piece of work" for the region and could give direction to Waikato's future development.
One recommendation that may flow from the spatial plan would be to develop one district plan for the whole region.
Hamilton City councillor and former Labour MP Martin Gallagher said a spatial plan and shared services between councils were positive initiatives but did not resolve the fact Waikato ratepayers paid more than $3m a year to 12 council chief executives.
"I think having one super council for the region is a step too far but we do need to talk turkey around fewer councils," Gallagher said.
"Instead of 12 local authorities we might end up with four or five councils with a good system of community boards. The current model we have will prove increasingly inadequate as the years go by and as a region it's important we are proactive so we don't have a model imposed on us.
"In the 21st century you have to ask is it rational and logical to have 12 chief executives and 12 units of local government serving a population of 418,000?"
Auckland Council has 21 local boards.
Green Party MP and local government spokeswoman Eugenie Sage said overseas trends favoured smaller councils which promoted localism.
Groups such as the property council favoured the unitary council model because it shrunk the number of councillors and diluted local democracy, Sage said.
Auckland's unitary council had also failed to deliver promised cost savings and wasburdened by growing debt. "With a big unitary authority you get council-controlled organisations set up to control council's commercial assets and in Auckland there has been major concerns about the level of decision-making behind closed doors."
Waikato District ratepayer and former Auckland resident Murray Reid was not convinced council amalgamations were needed in the Waikato but also believed the councils' top brass were overpaid. "I certainly don't think ratepayers need to pay the chief executives the amount they do to get the calibre needed for the job. They
weren't paid that much when they were the town clerk."
Regional council chief executive Vaughan Payne said staff salaries were kept under "very close scrutiny" and a recent review had been conducted to ensure ratepayers got value for money. Council jobs were placed on bands that reflected the complexity and scope of the role, with each band assigned a salary range. The dollar value of these ranges were assessed each year by an external remuneration consultancy.
"Taking into account a variety of factors - including the complexity, scale and specialist nature of the council's work - I believe the public generally gets value for money from its staff," Payne said. "I recognise the need to continually review the situation."
One CEO paid: $630,000
Total of 12 CEO's paid: $3.36m
WAIKATO TOP HEAVY
Land area: 25,000 km sq
1 regional council and 11 territorial councils
Barry Harris: 386,000, Hamilton City Council
Geoff Williams: 338,000, Rotorua District Council
Rob Williams: 305,000, Taupo District Council
Don McLeod: 302,000, Matamata-Piako District Council
David Hammond: 275,000, Thames Coromandel District Council
Garry Dyet: 298,000, Waipa District Council
Gavin Ion: 292,000, Waikato District Council
Vaughan Payne: 268,000, Waikato Regional Council
Langley Cavers: 252,000, Hauraki District Council
Craig Hobbs: 224,000, South Waikato District Council
Chris Ryan: 221,000, Waitomo District Council
Dave Clibbery: 200,000, Otorohanga District Council
AUCKLAND SUPER SLIM
Population: 1.42 million.
Land area: 1086 km sq
One council: Auckland Council
One CEO: Stephen Town
Auckland Council and Council Controlled Organisations: 8074
Greater Waikato Councils: 3306
EARNING MORE THAN $100,000
Auckland - Council and Council Controlled Organisations: 1500
Greater Waikato Councils: 323