• Video: Hastings District Council salary costs are just under $40m, with 110 staff earning more than $100,000 per year

Video: Hastings District Council salary costs are just under $40m, with 110 staff earning more than $100,000 per year

The Hastings District Council’s salary costs are just under $40m per annum, with 110 staff earning between $100,000 and $200,000 per year and a further seven employees on more than $200,000 per annum.

These figures are for permanent council staff and do not include elected councillors or contracted staff. The total remuneration of Hastings District Council Chief Executive Nigel Bickle (pictured) for the year ending 30 June 2023 was $421,474, according to the 2022/2023 annual report.

The other figures in this story were supplied by the Hastings District Council after questions from Hawke’s Bay App about a salary costs. It comes a time when the Council is trying to find ways to keep the annual rates increase as low as possible and with Council debt sitting at $400m and annual interest repayments hitting $16m. Last month Napier City Council agreed to propose a annual rates increase of 23.7 percent. It is expected that the Hastings District Council release, to be discussed at the next Council meeting, could be in a similar vicinity.

The Council currently employs the full-time equivalent of 444 permanent staff (a mixture of full-time staff and part-time staff) with an annual salary bill of $39,799,246. By comparison, as at 31 December 2019, Council employed the full-time equivalent of 390 permanent staff (a mixture of full-time staff and part-time staff), which cost $30,099,772 per annum.

Council figures show that as of January 2024, 110 employees earn $100k to $199k a year, while seven employees earn $200k and over a year.

The Council employs, as of January 2024, 10.6 fulltime equivalent communications and marketing staff. The average salary for staff members of this department is $90,738.

CE Bickle has defended the high costs saying the Council has had to react to the impact of Cyclone Gabrielle in the past 12 months which has seen Council staff numbers increase.

However, Connor Molloy, the Campaigns Manager for lobby group, the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union, said that with the high cost of living, infrastructure challenges and the Cyclone Gabrielle recover, it was more important than ever that the looks for every saving they can find.

He said that by doing this they could minimise the impact on ratepayers, and also have enough money to invest in core infrastructure “rather than other nice to haves”.

“When you look at what the Council is spending on their staff salaries, for example, it's increased by $9 million over the past couple of years. More than a quarter of the staff are earning more than $100,000 a year. And so we think that some of that backroom bloat in the council bureaucracy is an obvious area where the Council can make savings.”

“We think that the council should focus on trimming down the fat, particularly around some of their communications staff, and then also just focus on doing the core service as well, rather than trying to be an organisation that does a bit of everything but not well.”

In response to further questions by Hawke’s Bay App, Bickle said that it was expected that the staff numbers would begin to drop, “particularly where we have employed community connectors to support our affected communities post-cyclone, as we enter into a new phase of the cyclone recovery”.

“This will, however, be offset by a necessary increase in staffing for the roading recovery which will require a huge amount of resource to deliver $800m in roading works over the next 6-7 years.  Council is considering whether there are services to the community that should cease.”

Bickle refuted suggestions that the Council has too many staff.

“There are in fact a number of areas where an increase in staffing would enable Council to provide required services to a higher standard that budgets do not allow.”

Council utilises market remuneration data to determine remuneration rates for its employees.”

He said it was important to pay appropriately and competitively in order to attract and retain good staff.

“A significant number of our staff are professionally qualified, and such roles are thus remunerated accordingly.”

“Most staff in Council have very transferrable skills and are equally employable in the private sector as they are in the local government and public sector. As such we need to try and stay competitive and we are constantly being challenged to retain and attract staff within the remuneration constraints that we have. It is not our view that Council staff are overpaid.”

As for his own remuneration, Bickle says that the Mayor and Councillors determine his remuneration.

“I know that remuneration market data is utilised for that.”

He says that Council debt has increased in recent years for a number of reasons, not least because of the response to the Havelock North water crisis and more recently the response to Cyclone Gabrielle.

The tools that council has to reduce debt are limited and primarily include:

*Selling assets – Council does not have many assets that are saleable but is looking at what can be done in this area.

*Deferring expenditure that would be loan funded – staff are actively looking at where expenditure can be deferred where there are not significant risks in doing so. A very large proportion of Council’s debt funded capital expenditure is for critical infrastructure asset upgrades or to support growth and it would therefore be irresponsible to defer.

With regard to the cost of the marketing and communications team, Bickle says that the community has come to expect “robust engagement and communications, and our council strives to meet that standard”.

“The communications resource has been bolstered over the years to manage the communications and engagement for all council-run facilities and programmes along with a significant number of projects such as playground re-developments and reserve management plans, roading, three-waters, and waste management.”

“In addition to ‘BAU’, the team supports large-scale projects such as residential housing and infrastructure projects, refurbishment of the Hawke’s Bay Opera House and Municipal Buildings, the implementation of the drinking water strategy (2017 – in the final year now), and two nationally declared emergencies (COVID-19 and Cyclone Gabrielle).”

Watch the accompanying video to see the full interview with Connor Molloy, the Campaigns Manager for the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.