One in five staff at Auckland Council is earning more than $100,000 as the wages bill for the Super City blows out for the third year in a row.
What's more, the number of executives earning more than $200,000 has increased by 25 per cent in the past year, from 155 to 194, according to figures in the council's 2016-2017 annual report.
The council and its six council-controlled organisations(CCOs) employ 11,893 staff, of whom 2322 earn more than $100,000.
Brisbane City Council - often compared to Auckland Council - employs about 8000 staff, of whom 149 earn more than A$100,000.
Council senior staff have always been diligent in budgeting very generous pay increases for themselves
In the past three years, the wages bill at Auckland Council has blown out by tens of millions of dollars each year. Council set a budget of $811m in the past year and spent $853m on wages.
The $42m increase gobbles up $1.8m in savings from a big restructure of libraries, $13.5m in new revenue from Mayor Phil Goff's "bed tax", and more. The increase would comfortably pay for the new $35m bus and train interchange at Manukau.
Goff, who has promised to cut fat at council, said he was surprised at the big increase in $200,000-plus pay packets and had asked council chief executive Stephen Town for an explanation. He also wanted a rundown on how salaries are set and benchmarked against other public-sector bodies.
Goff said factors like Ports of Auckland buying two new businesses had increased the total staff count. When they were excluded, actual council staff numbers had dropped by 11.
He said the $42m increase in staff costs was partly driven by pay errors in the Holidays Act costing $18m and unbudgeted redundancies costing $11m.
In a statement, Town said the reason for the increase in $200,000-plus salaries included pay increases taking them over the threshold, new roles and, in some cases, two roles being merged into one role with broader responsibilities.
On the issue of total staff numbers, Town said extra staff had been brought in on big projects, like the City Rail Link and the council itself had reduced 108 back-office jobs.
"Council's focus continues to be on responding to Auckland's growth by investing in critical infrastructure and delivering services across a wide range of areas," said Town, whose salary has increased from $655,846 to $690,000 in the past year.
Councillor Mike Lee said the failure to stay within the wages budget was a scandal.
"Council senior staff have always been diligent in budgeting very generous pay increases for themselves but it seems even this is not enough.
"Auckland ratepayers simply cannot afford this level of fleecing and are reaching the limits of their tolerance," Lee said.
Four days ago, the Herald on Sunday reported that a top council executive has pocketed a $405,739 severance payment in the past year. Goff has queried the "exceptional" payout with the Auditor-General after getting an assurance from Town it was appropriate.
Deputy finance committee chairwoman Desley Simpson said $42m over budget on staff costs is not acceptable, certainly not to ratepayers.
"We have got to break the cycle of unbudgeted money going out the door," she said.
By the numbers
11,893 - total staff numbers for Auckland Council and six CCOs
2322 - number of staff earning more than $100,000
194 - number of staff earning more than $200,000(155 last year)
$853m - actual wages bill
$811m - budgeted wages bill
$18m - staff payments for errors in the Holidays Act
$11m - unbudgeted cost of redundancies