Auckland ratepayers have the country's second-highest council debts - but a new league table shows that Western Bay of Plenty ratepayers pay the highest residential rates.
The table, published by the Taxpayers Union, says Auckland Council's debt is now $22,189 for every ratepayer - more than three times the national average of $6989 and topped only by Waitomo District Council with $24,600.
Taxpayers Union executive director Jordan Williams said Auckland's debts per ratepayer jumped by 30 per cent since the last version of the league table in 2014.
But Auckland's average residential rates were only $2340, including residential water bills, only slightly above the national average of $2251 even though Auckland Council's functions include services that are provided by regional councils elsewhere. Regional councils are not included in the data.
Western Bay of Plenty District had the highest average residential rates in both 2014 and 2017, up from $3274 to $3234.
All of the 10 districts with the highest residential rates, except Porirua, are in provincial areas where the definition of residential properties may be affected by issues such as whether lifestyle blocks are included.
Western Bay of Plenty Mayor Garry Webber said his council's high rates were due to rapid population growth over the past 15 years.
"To service that growth and to future proof our council we have invested heavily in infrastructure to meet our residents' needs and central government standards," he said.
A local government consultant, Peter McKinlay, said the league table was "a useful but misleading first step".
"Yes, there is some data, but misleading in the sense that if you are told this is a reliable base for measuring the performance of councils, then you are being misled," he said.
"It sets the stage for more in-depth comparison within perhaps groups of councils to really get a sense of what is being taken into account."
He said the data on both rates and debt took no account of the assets being supported by council spending.
"A lot of the debt that Auckland is raising is to cope with the problems of growth," he said.
"But think what growth has done to the average value of ratepayers' assets. The growth that has pushed Auckland's debt up is growth that has also added something like half a million dollars to the value of each ratepayer."
Waitomo Mayor Brian Hanna said his council's high debt was because the council had just about finished a complete upgrade of the district's water and wastewater systems.
"For the next 50 years, all our upgrades have been done," he said.
"We have gone about our business and upgraded all our infrastructure as we should do, and all I can say is that there are other councils that haven't."
The league table shows that Auckland Council paid the highest chief executive salary ($655,846) in the year to June last year.
Surprisingly, the tiny West Coast district of Buller was second-highest ($476,740). Mayor Garry Howard said that sum included a payout to the council's former chief executive, and the chief executive's salary in the year to June this year was only $255,000.
Taupo District Council said its high chief executive salary costs in the June 2016 year ($397,105) were also due to a payout to a departing chief executive.
The South Island's rural Mackenzie District boasted the lowest residential rates in both years, but its average increased by the largest percentage nationwide (48 per cent), from $1104 in 2014 to $1637.
"The average percentage change for rates bills in New Zealand from 2014 to 2017 is 12.8 per cent," Williams said. "Over the same period, total inflation has only equalled 2.6 per cent."