Auckland Mayor Len Brown last night defended salaries of nearly $800,000 a year for two senior council executives, telling a public meeting, "You have got to meet the market."
The just-published 2013 annual report shows council chief executive Doug McKay's salary increased by $15,656 to $782,887 and Watercare CEO Mark Ford's salary rose $70,000 to between $780,000 and $790,000.
In the same year, the number of council staff earning more than $100,000 rose to 1500, and 113 staff earned more than $200,000.
At a debate at the Somervell Presbyterian Church in Remuera, four mayoral candidates were asked how they felt about the big salaries.
Mayor Brown said the council was one of the largest corporations in the country, it was a massive job for people like Mr McKay, and their salaries were necessary to meet the market.
Uesifili UNasa, head of the council's Pacific Peoples Advisory Panel and chaplain at Auckland University, was appalled at the number of council staff earning more than $100,000 when council cleaners were struggling on low wages and working two and three jobs to afford schooling, clothes and other basics to participate in the city.
Mr Brown's main right-wing rival, John Palino, said he had a problem with salaries of between $700,000 and $800,000, but could not put a figure on what he believed was reasonable.
John Minto, the Mana Party candidate, said he would limit the chief executive's salary to the generous level of five times the living wage, or $191,000, and the mayor's to four times the living wage, or $153,000.
If Mr Brown is re-elected, his salary will increase from $247,300 to $251,010 on October 13, the day after the local body elections.
Mr Brown was questioned on financial matters, including the rise in debt from $3.9 billion to $6.7 billion over his first three budgets.
He maintained it was within a low debt-to-equity ratio of about 12-13 per cent, a high AA credit rating from Standard & Poor's and a case of utilising a strong balance sheet to build appropriate infrastructure.
Mr Palino said the council had little to show for new infrastructure and drew the loudest applause by saying he would not spend ratepayers' money on a $30 million white-water rafting project in Manukau.