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Lobby group’s wages war

With a 16 per cent jump in its staff wage pool for 2023, South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] has been accused of clandestinely jacking up wages for its bureaucracy” by the Taxpayer’s Union.

But the council’s chief executive says the lobby group is entitled to their opinion and she is proud her staff are now paid a living wage and gender balance has been addressed.

Staff across Wairarapa’s three councils were paid almost $24 million in salaries and wages last financial year, an increase of $2m on the year prior.

However, the highest jump in the wage pool was found to be at South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC], which increased from $5.25m in 2022 to $6.11m last financial year, a 16 per cent jump.

SWDC chief executive officer Janice Smith said the council had commitments to staff under collective agreements and used local government salary survey provider Strategic Pay to ensure pay was fair and equitable.

“Over the 2022-23 period, we worked to ensure that those on lower wages were lifted to the Living Wage and that the gender balance was addressed,” she said.

“South Wairarapa District Council staff are an asset to the communities we serve, and we are proud to now have no pay gap.”

According to the council’s annual report, the number of full-time equivalent [FTE] employees dropped by five to a total of 60 FTE last year.

Based on the total wages pool and the number of FTE at the time of the Annual Report, this gives an ‘average’ pay of $101,868, although this does not take into account possible vacancies at the time the staff count was done.

“While it may appear that the number of staff has reduced, that may be due to vacancy lag,” Smith said.

“For example, an employee who worked 350 days leaving on June 29 would not be included in the FTE figure, but their salary would be.”

Of the total number of staff employed by SWDC [68], 18 earn less than $60k, and eight earn more than $120k.

Taxpayers’ Union campaigns manager Connor Molloy, said South Wairarapa District Council was “taking its ratepayers for a ride”.

The 16 per cent increase in council spending on staff wages and salaries is simply flabbergasting, especially on the back of a punishing 20 per cent rates hike in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis,” he said.

“Finding out about the eye-watering rates hike would have been devastating enough for those on fixed or low incomes.

“But the revelation that the money is being spent on merrily lining the pockets of its already highly-paid council staff instead of core infrastructure is a further slap in the face.”

Molloy said that with some of the highest rates in the country already, SWDC should be doing everything in its power to “cut waste and keep rates down – not clandestinely jacking up wages for its bureaucracy”. “Not replacing vacancies of non-essential staff would be a fantastic start, but if necessary the council must go further.”

One of the top SWDC earners was former chief executive Harry Wilson, who received a salary of $250k.

Wilson resigned in May last year, and Paul Gardner was appointed interim chief executive.

Smith also said several points should be considered when looking at the salaries and wages budget, including external funding from central government agencies to support crucial work such as water reform and community development roles within the council.

“In relation to managing salaries and wages costs, when we lose a staff member through normal attrition, we review the team’s structure to ensure fit for purpose and most return on investment,” she said.

“We constantly review and refine our resourcing arrangements to meet the needs of council operations at the time, while balancing the need to attract candidates with the suitable skills and talent for our roles.”

According to the SWDC annual report, one severance payment was made in 2023, totalling $27,765.

Masterton

In the year ending June 2023, Masterton District Council’s salaries and wages pool increased $711k to $11.71m, a 6.5 per cent increase overall.

There were seven more FTE staff working at the council in the 2023 financial year, compared to the year prior, bringing the total FTE workforce to 132.

Based on this, MDC employees earned an average of $88,718 in salaries and wages, a 0.8 per cent increase on the year prior.

Of the total number of staff employed by MDC [151], 42 earned less than $60k and 25 earned more than $120k.

One of the top earners was former chief executive David Hopman, who had a salary package of $317,277 [this included final holiday pay].

Hopman resigned last year after a long tenure at the council.

One severance payment was made, totalling $8268.

MDC chief executive Kym Fell said the council was committed to ensuring it remained “efficient but able to respond”.

“While we owe it to our ratepayers to ensure we can deliver facilities and services for them as efficiently as possible, we must balance this with being an employer that attracts talented people with the skills we need to deliver quality services for the people of Masterton.”

He said running a council was a “complex business”, made more so by ongoing pressures from central government, the increased cost of living and its impact on procuring services, and responses to unplanned events such as Cyclones Hale and Gabrielle.

“To run a district, we require skilled technical expertise and qualified capability, which comes at a cost,” Fell said.

“Masterton District Council uses Strategic Pay, who are the primary local government salary survey provider, to guide our remuneration strategy.

“That framework benchmarks Masterton District Council’s salary bands against other non-metropolitan councils in the North Island.

“This ensures we are paying fair market rates for the expertise we require and that we remain competitive when it comes to hiring roles with specific technical skills, such as engineering expertise.”

Masterton Mayor Gary Caffell said Fell recently undertook a restructure of the senior leadership team “ensuring that the organisation is well equipped for now and into the future”.

“This change process resulted in one less senior leader,” Caffell said.

“Mr Fell and his new executive leadership team are focused on implementing efficiencies across the organisation.

“This could mean employing in-house capability to reduce the reliance on higher-priced external specialists, for example legal services.”

Carterton

In Carterton, the salaries and wages pool increased $501k to $5.9m.

Carterton District Council [CDC] employed 63 FTE staff in the last financial year, an increase from 59 the year prior.

Based on this, council staffers on average earned $94,190, a 2.3 per cent increase on the year prior [$92,085].

Of the 82 total employees, 25 earned less than $60k, and 15 earned more than $100k.

One of the top earners was chief executive Geoff Hamilton, who had a total remuneration of $220k.

No severance payments were made last year.

Notes

FTE hours vary between the councils. MDC considers FTE a 40-hour working week, CDC defines it as 35 hours, and SWDC defines it as 37.5.

The “Salaries and wages” figure used by Local Democracy Reporting [LDR] from the councils’ Annual Reports does not include employee entitlements/liabilities or employer contributions.

SWDC informed LDR that the Salaries and Wages figure in its annual report included remuneration from elected members, so this was subtracted. -NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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