Waterfront Auckland chief executive John Dalzell had the biggest pay boost among council chief executives for the past two years, taking his salary to more than $500,000.
Consecutive pay rises have resulted in Mr Dalzell's salary rising 30.8 per cent from $380,000 to $390,000 in 2012 to between $500,000 and $510,000 this year.
By contrast, the average salary increase for council staff was 1.9 per cent in 2013 and 2.3 per cent this year.
Waterfront Auckland chairman Sir Bob Harvey praised Mr Dalzell's "extraordinary" performance last year and this year to justify the big salary hikes.
"This is the real world," said Sir Bob, saying Mr Dalzell could walk out the door tomorrow and get double or treble his salary.
Mr Dalzell has led the revitalisation of Auckland waterfront over the past eight years and been credited with attracting about $1.5 billion in private investment to Wynyard Quarter.
A Herald survey found the salaries of council and council-controlled organisation (CCO) chief executives rose between 2 per cent and 30.8 per cent in the past two years.
Outgoing Regional Facilities Auckland chief executive Robert Domm has had the smallest increase. His salary has risen 2 per cent from $390,000 to $397,800.
The survey also found council chief executive Stephen Town, who started this year on a fixed two-year salary of $630,000, has fallen one spot to third on the ranking order.
Auckland Transport chief executive David Warburton has overtaken Mr Town on a salary of $640,000 to $660,000.
Mr Town's salary of $630,000 was well below the salary of $782,887 paid to former chief executive Doug McKay.
Watercare chief executive Mark Ford, who resigned this month for health reasons, remained the top-earning council employee with a salary of $840,000 to $850,000.
Watercare has advertised for a new chief executive.
Mayor Len Brown - after taking on board "messages" around debt and spending at last year's local body elections - said there would be a pay cut for the new chief executive.
Board chairman David Clarke said the job was being resized and "I can assure you we'll be bearing in mind the comment [by the mayor] when we consider a new appointee salary".
A Herald-DigiPoll survey in July showed 42.5 per cent of Aucklanders believed the best way for the council to meet its budget plans was to reduce staff and salaries.
Spending on council wages continues to rise and the number of staff earning more than $100,000 has risen from 1500 to 1780 in the past year.
Mr Town said: "Auckland Council roles and pay bands are externally benchmarked against comparable roles in the public and private sector.
"They compare well to other New Zealand organisations of similar size and complexity."