Whanganui District Council has whittled the projected average rates rise for this year down to 1.4 per cent but councillors could not agree to cap an increase in operational costs.
The district's rates had been projected to increase by an average of about 5 per cent - until the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
But efforts to reduce spending have since pinned the increase back to about 1.4 per cent.
During this week's annual plan deliberations, councillor Rob Vinsen put up a motion asking for a maximum two per cent increase in council personnel costs. This was later refined to an overall increase in operational costs of a maximum of $400,000.
Chief executive Kym Fell said he had already trimmed costs by $350,000, and could only manage another $50,000. He didn't think he could do more, without reducing services.
Fell said the cuts could include waiting longer to replace staff who leave, hiring fewer contractors, asking staff to take leave and reducing opening hours.
Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall said council could nibble around the edges of services, instead of ending services.
"When a tradie complains that council doors open at 9am rather than 8.30, just remember right now," McDouall said. "This is where it will occur."
Vinsen said increased personnel costs would be "unpalatable" in a post-Covid-19 world where members of parliament were taking salary cuts.
"We want to say to the Whanganui public that the staff of this organisation also will not be taking any salary increases in the next year."
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Councillor Philippa Baker-Hogan seconded his motion. She said the cut to costs was a relatively simple matter, and she trusted Fell to decide where to cut.
But Alan Taylor said if the motion passed, the council should provide a list of cut services to the Whanganui public.
Reducing rates was a fine objective, deputy mayor Jenny Duncan said, but the council had to maintain staff and services to grow the district.
What was being proposed "can only be described as dangerous", she said.
"When we have got growth, there's an increase in service delivery. We have already moved from a 3.9 per cent rate increase to 1.4 per cent. Going any further will cut into our ability to grow appropriately and deliver services appropriately."
The cut should not be a governance decision, made by councillors, councillor Josh Chandulal-Mackay said.
McDouall voted against the motion, though he had previously been in favour of it. He was persuaded by Chandulal-Mackay's argument that it was a management, rather than governance, matter.
Fell had already committed to substantial savings, he said, and there was no need to go further.
Only six councillors of 13 voted for the motion, and it was narrowly lost.