Rotorua Lakes Council spent nearly a million dollars more on staff wages in the last financial year than the previous year, despite having fewer employees.
Figures obtained by the Rotorua Daily Post before the Covid-19 pandemic, reveal 378 people were employed by the council in the 2018-2019 financial year, translating to 336 full-time equivalents (FTEs). The financial year prior there were 396 employees and 355 FTEs, equating to a reduction in staff of 18 people.
Of those who remained, eight earned an annual salary of $200,000 or more - two more staff than in previous years.
Another 128 employees earned $60,000 or less, the most common pay bracket, compared with 195 the year prior. The only other pay bracket to experience a reduction in staff was $160,000 to $179,999 with eight employees down to six.
The figures, provided through a Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act request made late last year, showed an increase in staff earning $60,000 to $79,999; $80,000 to $99,999; $100,000 to $119,999; $120,000 to $139,999; $180,000 to $199,999 and $200,000 or more.
In total, the council spent $25.6m on staff wages in the 2019-2019 year compared with $24.7m the year prior and $24.4m in 2016/17.
When asked how much specifically came from ratepayers, the council said in a written statement: "The majority of staff costs is paid from rates income, however some staffing is paid by user fees or external contract funding eg: NZTA and Provincial Growth Fund".
Chief executive Geoff Williams said numbers changed constantly "as we look to manage staffing levels to help manage costs".
"People who leave are not necessarily automatically replaced, some roles are reviewed to determine if they are still needed and/or whether they could be delivered differently or by other staff."
Williams said the council carried a large number of vacancies last year and not all of those positions were retained.
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"Strong market movements means highly skilled staff have many opportunities open to them so we need to pay market rates to attract and retain good staff," he said.
"We also have to recognise people's skills, expertise and any added responsibilities they may be given. Much of our work requires a high level of skill and expertise and that is reflected in what we need to pay."
When asked what positions or from which areas in the council the staff reductions came from, Williams said: "Changes have occurred in many different departments".
Ryan Gray of Evolve Rotorua said there could be many factors that played into the staffing costs but people being paid their worth was a good thing.
Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers chairwoman Glenys Searancke declined to comment, as the group had not yet discussed the matter.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council increased staff numbers by 5 per cent: from 401 employees, and 330 FTEs, in 2017/18 to 421 employees, and 342 FTEs, last financial year. Of these staff, nine earned between $160,000 and $319,999 compared with 128 in the most common pay bracket of $60,000 or less.
In Tauranga, staff numbers rose by 9.7 per cent. This translates to 757 employees, including 663 FTEs, in the 2018-2019 year compared with 690 employees, and 613 FTEs the year prior. By comparison, Western Bay of Plenty District Council employed 242 people, including 227 FTEs, compared to 226 people, including 209.5 FTEs, in 2017/18.
Taxpayers' Union spokesman Jordan Williams said it was typical of councils to increase staffing costs as part of their growing responsibility and scope.
"We see this across New Zealand; that councils are increasing the size of their organisations in growing personnel when their responsibility and scope might have increased a little bit."
However, Williams said the union did not think growth of more than 3 or 4 per cent was necessarily unjustified.
A Local Government New Zealand spokesman said unfunded mandates were a major cost burden on council budgets.
"From new compliance and enforcement measures to revised National Position Statements, councils get lumped with an increasing array of work from central government, often without any additional resourcing," he said.