City council's spin doctor costs soar

By John Cousins


Tauranga ratepayers are forking out $1.6 million a year to fund the council's publicity machine, with costs going up a third since the global slowdown hit in 2008.

Information released to the Bay of Plenty Times showed that the cost of the council's communications division had grown from $1.21 million in 2006-07 to $1.66 million for the last financial year.

The communications bill for the Western Bay of Plenty District Council, was a comparatively small $356,000 although its population was only a third of the city's.

Papamoa Progressive Association chairman Steve Morris said that he was not too surprised by the big numbers but questioned whether the council was getting value for money.

"It is a matter of what is affordable," Mr Morris said.

Budgets could be reduced by simple measures such as reducing print costs and putting more online.

Only five or six of his association's 100 members did not have email addresses and their average age was about 70.

And rather than go through the maze of the council's website, he suggested the council put click-on banners on to news websites in order to obtain as much public participation as possible.

Mr Morris also wanted the council to be more accountable with live streaming debate from meetings on to its website so people could view meetings from the comfort of their own home.

City councillor Murray Guy was unfazed by the $1.6 million figure but said he relished the chance to revisit the budget because he said he thought the council had been "dismal" in communicating with the public.

He said there seemed to be a lot of people involved in communications and for that reason he was not surprised that the communications budget was on the high side.

Mr Guy said communications was a critical area for any organisation and he did not expect the budget to follow the economic downturn because the council had a statutory requirement to consult and so advertising carried on regardless.

The council's acting communication manager Frank Begley said the budget for the current financial year was $1.593 million, or 31 per cent higher than six years ago.

Mr Begley said there were seven full-time positions in 2006-07 compared with nine for 2011-12 although this had been cut to 8.5 for most of this year following the resignation of the communications manager.

The position had held open until the council restructuring took place and had now been advertised. A part-time contractor had assisted during this period.

New positions since 2007 were the city partnership manager, who transferred from another division of the council, and a second online services position.

Mr Begley said the effect of the restructuring on communications had been the loss of one full-time position; the online services manager and senior web publisher transferring to another department; and the civic events coordinator joining communications from Baycourt.

Restructuring would leave communications with seven full-time positions; the same as 2006-07.

Mr Begley said there had been a growth in online services since 2007 to meet the growing demand for electronic information.

Communication duties included the production of Our City Views, City Partner News and preparing one-off brochures such as the walkways and cycleways booklet.

Mr Begley said the team also engaged with the community. It dealt with the media and public education processes, ran surveys, supported projects such as the TravelSafe programme and dealt with internal communications.

He said they supported regional and Western Bay projects such as emergency management, SmartGrowth and the Tauranga Eastern Link; and supported community events like Children's Day and the New Year's Eve and Waitangi Day celebrations.

The Western Bay District Council's communications budget for the 2012-13 year was $378,000 of which $188,000 was salaries. It had a full-time manager, a one-third time communications executive assistant (formerly full time), a half-time executive assistant and an "as required" contracted communications person.

The salaries component of communications had grown from $139,000 in 2006-07 to $166,000 last year, up 19 per cent.

Tauranga City Council jobs in communications were:

Two communication advisers

One communications coordinator

Online services manager

Senior web publisher

Two part-time contracted positions including one to assist with city partnership activities.

One vacant communication advisor's position (maternity leave).

- Bay of Plenty Times

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