No free lunches, video-conferencing instead of sending staff to expensive conferences and livestock to control grassy areas and cut down on maintenance contracts are on a hit-list that could slash millions from council budgets.
As councils around the country try to tackle budget blowouts amid rising costs, the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union has published a report – 102 Ways to Save Money in Local Government - which it says could provide financial relief for under-pressure local authorities.
New Zealand's 78 local councils collected more than $5 billion in rates revenue during the 2016-17 financial year – about $1100 per New Zealander – and the Taxpayers' Union said it was imperative those funds were spent more wisely than, in some cases, they are now.
"Councils should cut wasteful spending and focus on providing core services, a change in culture which will result in significant savings across the local government sector," said Jo Holmes, spokeswoman for the Auckland Ratepayers' Allowance, an intiative of the Taxpayers' Uniom.
"This report shouldn't be viewed as a checklist, whereby if an authority manages to tick all the boxes the job is done. Instead it should be seen as a challenge to provide value for money to ratepayers, continuously, through initiatives large and small."
The initiative has won the partial support of New Plymouth District Council mayor Neil Holdom, who said local body officials should be looking closely at spending.
"While I do not advocate some of the more radical ideas which the authors of this document have included, no doubt to grab a few headlines, I celebrate those who are committed to sharing ideas and encouraging open and honest debate.
"The duty of care we owe our people in discharging our obligations is to watch every cent."
Cost-cutting proposals from the Taxpayers' Union include:
Public toilets: "Public lavatories can represent poor value for money in terms of the cost of the maintainence compared to how often they are used.
"Often the buildings can be valuable capital assets.
"A better arrangement may be to pay bars/cafes a small fee for agreeing to allow members of the public to use their loos free of charge.
"Alternatively, get the sports club or another user of the park or facility to manage the loos, they'll probably do a better job, and will be there when the facility is required."
No free lunches: "Stop providing free lunches and booze for councillors.
"Hutt City councillor Campbell Barry advocated against providing free lunches to councillors in 2017, estimating $15,000-$20,000 could be saved annually if councillors were required to provide their own lunch.
"Though there is some valued in providing light meals to ensure that meetings which run into the evenings remain productive, councils must keep a close eye on how much they are spending on catering."
Barry's motion failed, but Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel abolished free lunches in 2013, with the Taxpayers' Union saying the move "slashed" $45,000 from the catering cost incurred by her council in the 2012-13 financial year.
Grass cutting: "Where appropriate use cattle and sheep to graze on council land rather than spending money on grass cutting.
"Auckland Council run sheep and cattle on Cornwall Park in One Tree Hill. The animals are an attraction for children and families. Livestock could easily by used at other parks."
Scrap political advisers: "Political advisers don't work for ratepayeres – they work for the mayor.
"If local politicians want political advice they should pay for it."
The Taxpayers' Union said that in Wellington, the mayor spent more than $400,000 on advisers and support staff in 2017; in Auckland $2.079m was spent on staff employed by the mayor's office; in Christchurch the mayor's office bill totalled $905,344.
Youth councils: "Abolish youth councils and standing consultative committees, which are more about photo opportunities and keeping people happy than useful public debate.
"Councils should be focused on allowing all members of society to participate in meaningful consultation processes as issues arise. Elected councillors are clearly not doing their job if they need to pay people to advise them on what sections of the community think.
"Youth councils are a nice idea but, in our experience, achieve little (if anything), and are used by local politicians as a Claytons solution to youth engagement."
Playgroups: "Do not have children's playgroups directly run by the council.
"Instead, better value for less money can be achieved through funding this much-needed resource via the voluntary sector, community groups and independent groups of parents and playgroups."
Sports payouts: "Get rid of professional sports subsidies disguised as 'economic development'.
"Hamilton City Council paid around $40 million over the five years it hosted the V8 Supercar races – if residents are not willing to pay their own money to go it's not reasonable use of ratepayers' money. It it's good for businesses then let businesses or the chambers of commerce pay, not the poor residents."
Facilities: "Don't own and run museums or art centres.
"Allow trusts to take them over. They tend to do a better job, and this reduces council maintenance costs.
"Rotorua Lakes Council is proposing to spend $32m over the next 10 years repairing the council-owned museum's long-term maintenance issues."
Debt repayment: "Pay back council debt – what right do today's councils have to borrow against future generations?
"Because its debt levels are unsustainable, Queenstown Lakes District Council under its previous mayor doubled down on financial discipline and reassessed all major capital projects. Deferral, staging and innovative technology were all considerations, with a focus on avoiding rates volatility and reducing debt.
"Internal savings in excess of $2 million from operational changes were achieved. It opted to apply 100 per cent of the 2013-14 $2.86 million dividend from Queenstown Airport Corporation to repay debt."
The union said the council's intention to pay off $22m of loans in eight, instead of 15 years, saved ratepayers more than $5.5m in interet costs.
"Queenstown Lakes have taken debt seriously, but the council's liabilities on a per ratepayer basis are just over half of those of Auckland City. Currently Auckland owes $22,189 for every residential ratepayer – more than three times the average across New Zealand."
Generate ideas: "Mayors, councillors and chief executives should encourage council staff to suggest efficincies. Offer a prize for the best suggestions. But also allow anonymous entries."