Tauranga City Council staff costs are projected to reach $46.6 million by the middle of next year, more than double the amount spent 11 years earlier. The rocketing staff costs were highlighted by Councillor Rick Curach at yesterday's meeting which adopted the 2016-17 Annual Plan for public consultation. He said personnel costs of $46.6 million in the current plan compared with the $21.3 million spent in 2005-06. Mr Curach asked for a more detailed explanation for the $3.7million increase in staff costs to assist with public feedback on the proposed 2016-17 budget. He suggested the contents of an internal staff memo that detailed the increase could be the basis of the public report on higher costs.
We could have had more robust discussions in the public environment.
He aired his concerns only minutes after Councillor Catherine Stewart complained that the council could have held more of its Annual Plan meetings in the open rather than behind closed doors. "We could have had more robust discussions in the public environment," Ms Stewart said. After the meeting, Mr Curach told the Bay of Plenty Times that there had been a lack of transparency. "You have not been there when this was discussed, it was all in briefings." He highlighted financial statements published in last month's Finance and Risk Committee agenda which showed an additional $2.4 million was projected to be spent on personnel in the current financial year, bringing the total spend in 2015-16 to $42.9 million. The proposed Annual Plan adds another $3.7 million.
Mr Curach suggested trimming the $46.6 million so there was more capacity for other spending, such as funding the improved services proposed by the Papamoa Surf Life Saving Club. Councillor Matt Cowley said he was comfortable that discussions on the Annual Plan had been through "a series of public resolutions". The additional personnel was because the building consents team had struggled to deal with a huge number of applications. Councillor John Robson said people who took one dimension of a budget that had two sides smacked of political opportunism. "Councils in the past have played this game. What comes back is cuts in key services." Mr Robson said he had hoped that the council had moved away from comments like this being made: "Clearly we have work to do, my friends." Councillor Steve Morris said the increase in consenting staff costs were being funded from higher users fees and charges. People in the building industry were telling him they were having to wait months for consents to be processed. The next meeting of the council's Finance and Risk Committee will consider a request by Mr Curach to publicly release the document that detailed hundreds of line items within the council's major costs centres.