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Controlling council’s bills

Staff salaries are likely to be $1 million over budget, but District Council chief executive Nedine Thatcher Swann believes there will not be as substantive a deficit in the council’s annual accounts this year as experienced last year.

The organisation has cut back on operational expenditure.

“I have put some measures in place to claw back on staff salaries.

“We will still be over budget but, as a result, we will reduce operational spending to offset.

“We have been making a substantial effort to offset the $1 million through reducing consultant spending and other operational expenditure across the organisation.

“The cost will still be over at the end of the year but I would hope that alongside the reduction in our operational spend, we will come close to being neutral in that area and not have a huge deficit like we did last year.”

Staff numbers were not a good way of determining the cost of salaries. They could conceivably have fewer staff and a higher salaries budget.

“When we do comparisons with other regions, Tasman for example, they have fewer staff but their salaries budget is higher because they pay higher. They also don’t include the pool staff, which can skew numbers.

“Staff numbers are not really a good indicator of overall expenditure and the way people are paid differs.

“Some might include fixed-termers and some might not. At our Olympic Pool there would be 20 casual workers employed over the summer, so the numbers go up — but not necessarily the budget.

“I try to get councillors to focus on the salary budget. That is the stuff you need to keep your eye on, never mind the staff numbers.

“What I can say is that the staff salary budget has been over by $1 million for the past three to four years and never set right. I might argue that it is not at the level it should be, but we have never reset the budget.

“The workload is immense and if a number of engagements with central government end up paying off for the region, we will need to be resourced to implement and deliver what we said we need.

“For example, if we are successful with additional roading funding, the navigations project or walkways, we might need to scale up temporarily because for this we are at capacity.”

Rates 'fair' in light of work council facesMs Thatcher Swann also believes that proposed rates increases are reasonable given the projects ahead.

“We now know that the previous 2 percent limit on rate increases was not sustainable for the long term.

“The council is also more aware of what it costs to maintain the network and that the current position needed to change.

“Gisborne is different from other councils in that it is a unitary authority, one of six in New Zealand.

“Effectively we are delivering what two councils would be required to out of one council resource.

“The requirements on us are no different to a regional council and the territorial local authorities. But we still have to deliver from within a budget of one council, not two — drawing from a small rating base with low income levels.

“I know that some other regional councils are looking at rates increases of upwards of 16 percent as a result of all the government changes.

“I don’t think that many people understand that.

“Many see our rates as unreasonable.

“I think that, comparatively, they are fair, given what we are required to deliver by law — the regional and territorial functions, as well as meeting the expectations of the community.

“Whether most people can afford to pay is another matter,” she said.