The head of the Far North District Council is the third highest paid council chief executive in the country, according to the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

However, the lobby group's figure lumps new chief executive Shaun Clarke's salary together with that of his predecessor — so it overstates his pay by about $130,000.

The Taxpayers' Union puts Clarke's annual salary at $445,000, behind only Auckland Council's Stephen Town on $690,000 and Christchurch City Council's Karleen Edwards on $447,151.

The Far North figure comes from the council's 2017 annual report so it combines the salary plus holiday pay and any bonuses of outgoing acting chief executive Colin Dale, along with the initial 10 weeks' salary paid to Clarke.

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Clarke's actual pay package is understood to be worth just over $310,000.

That places him about 26th in the salary league table instead of third.

For comparison, according to the Taxpayers' Union, Whangarei District Council's Rob Forlong earns $330,000 and Kaipara District Council's Louise Miller $267,404.

Taxpayers' Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke defended the methodology used to compile the salary league table, saying it reflected the total cost to ratepayers of their chief executives.

The figures for a few councils had been inflated by chief executive changeovers in the 2016-17 year, but that raised the question as to whether councils were doing their best to keep down the cost of such transitions.

''We're not trying to kick any particular individual. We're interested in the total costs to ratepayers,'' Houlbrooke said.

The table was also a snapshot of costs at a given point in time. If the figures were calculated any other way it wouldn't be possible to compare costs year-on-year, he said.

Far North Mayor John Carter, however, advised the Taxpayers' Union to ''go away and do their homework''.

With a small population base but one of the largest areas of any local authority in New Zealand, per-ratepayer costs would always be higher in the Far North than in a place like Auckland.

Carter said Far North ''absolutely'' got value for money from its chief executive.

''We have lots of restructuring going on, the economy's going gangbusters, and building and resource consents are up 50 per cent in the last 18 months,'' he said.

The Taxpayers' Union also calculated how much each ratepayer contributes to their chief executive's salary.

Aucklanders have the highest-earning council boss but the cost is spread over 600,000 ratepayers so they pay just $1.16 each a year. In tiny Westland District Council, however, ratepayers contribute $54.73 each to their chief executive's $361,630 pay.

The figures for the Far North are $11.82 per person (using the Taxpayers' Union figure) or $8.30 (using Clarke's actual salary). The figures for Whangārei and Kaipara are $7.89 and $17.28, respectively.

Acting Far North District Council chief executive Colin Dale received $246,000 in the 2015-16 year, according to the council's annual report. His predecessor, David Edmunds, was on a salary of $343,344 in 2014-15 and received severance pay of $193,846, including holiday pay and bonuses owed, when left the organisation in 2014. The reason for his departure has never been revealed.