Councils paying $3.2m to stay in touch

By John Cousins

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The three councils serving the Western Bay of Plenty will spend $3.2million this year communicating with their ratepayers - nearly $900,000 more than before the recession.

They are led by the Tauranga City Council with a $1.6million budget for its publicity machine - $300,000 more than the Bay of Plenty Regional Council expects to spend this year.

Trailing the bunch is the Western Bay District Council's communications budget of $378,000.

Official Information Act (OIA) requests by the Bay of Plenty Times revealed there were 18 positions in communications spread across the three councils, involving full-timers and part-timers.

That represented an increase of nearly two jobs since before the recession hit in 2008.

However, unlike the Tauranga and Western Bay councils, the regional council's duties covered the whole of the Bay, including Rotorua and the Eastern Bay of Plenty.

The regional council's response to the OIA request showed it topped the councils for the number of communications staff it employed at any one time. That happened last year when staff peaked at 9.5 full-time equivalent jobs.

It dropped one staff member this year to be slightly ahead of Tauranga's eight positions. The Western Bay District Council has the equivalent of nearly two full-time comms jobs on its payroll this year, although its budget had enough flexibility to employ one more part-timer as and when required.

The regional council's response to the OIA requests showed its communications spending had gone from $847,000 in 2006-07 to $1.5million last year, and dropping to $1.3million this year.

Council chief executive Mary-Anne MacLeod said the increases since 2006-07 had been driven by new regional responsibilities such as public transport and maritime safety.

One communications staff member was seconded to the Rena recovery project and one was on secondment to the Eastern Bay councils. The council had also entered new co-governance arrangements with iwi and further arrangements would be developed.

She said a full review of communications that began this year had already identified savings in print and publication costs.

The regional council's audience included businesses, environmental groups, farmers, recreational land and water users, fishers, residents' associations, iwi and ratepayers. The council was also responsible for Civil Defence and emergency management communications.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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