Proposed pay increases to regional council staff have riled some councillors, who say ratepayers have had enough of surging public-sector salaries.
Familiar divisions were quick to surface as regional councillors sat to debate the council's 2013-14 draft annual plan yesterday.
Rates Control councillors, whose ranks have settled at four members, questioned staff salary increases of 2.4 per cent, especially when regional growth, at 0.8 per cent, was lower than first projected.
The lower growth means the council's actual rates revenue for 2012-13 is lower than budgeted by $322,000.
Councillor Jane Hennebry said the region did not have the growth to justify extra costs and suggested any staff salary increases be paid on merit.
Council finance group manager Mike Garrett said salary inflation was based on data from independent advisers.
Fellow Rates Control councillor Russ Rimmington said independent advisers had a habit of "ramping up" salaries to the displeasure of the Government and ratepayers.
In response, councillor Paula Southgate said the council had to pay salaries comparable to the private sector to retain staff. She said it was more costly to replace staff who left.
The draft annual plan also proposed fulltime equivalent staff be increased to 459.
Overall, the proposed annual plan budget represented an estimated 2.9 per cent rates increase to existing ratepayers - a drop from 3.7 per cent projected in the long-term plan.
Despite the decrease, Rates Control councillor Theresa Stark said greater savings could be made if the council focused on core services.
She said spending $78,000 on various sponsorships might earn the council "kudos", but could be better used providing services to ratepayers.
Meanwhile, the council's running of the region's buses has come under scrutiny, with Mr Rimmington saying rural communities were not being adequately served.
Without adequate public transport, communities such as Te Kuiti risked becoming ghost towns, he said.
Similarly, Ms Hennebry said one of ratepayers' biggest gripes was the number of half-empty buses on Hamilton's streets despite the council pouring millions into the services.
She said the council should run advertisements warning Hamilton patrons to use the service "or lose it".
Regional council policy and transport group manager Vaughan Payne said bus services at peak time were at capacity.
In Hamilton, city passenger numbers had gone from 1.5 million in 2002-03 to 4.5 million in 2010-11.
Mr Payne said if the council were to consider more rural bus services, councillors could not expect extra Government funding.
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