New powers no more than expected
Porirua’s elected officials will have increased powers over the city council’s budget and staff in sweeping changes being introduced by central government.
By September, laws should be in place giving elected council members the power to set caps on council staff numbers and to set council’s employment and remuneration policy.
After October 2013 the country’s mayors will have more say on plans, policies and budgets and will be able to establish committees and appoint committee chairmen and deputy mayors.
Auckland’s supercity already has these powers.
The changes were made public recently in the ‘‘ Better Local Government’’ report written by thenlocal government minister Nick Smith.
Porirua mayor Nick Leggett says the changes will bring councillors’ powers into line with public expectations.
‘‘What’s intrigued me since being elected is the perception among residents and community groups that the mayor is more powerful than they are and that they are essentially the chief executive.
‘‘ And unfortunately elected members are quite powerless at times,’’ he says.
‘‘I think it’s a really positive move that the mayor proposes the budget and elected members have more say on the remuneration of staff.’’
However, a good mayor will have influence on appointments and council decisions anyway, Mr Leggett says.
Council staff salaries rose 86 per cent nationwide between 2002 and 2010, but had increased only 8.7 per cent in the eight years before 2002, when councils were given a broader brief under the Local Government Act.
Numbers of council staff and their salary bands will be published as part of former minister Dr Smith’s changes.
Improving councils’ finances, efficiency and governance are the Government’s motives for reform.
Mr Leggett disagrees with Dr Smith’s suggestion that high rates and growing council debt are due to council spending on projects beyond core services like sewerage, rubbish collection and libraries.
‘‘Those projects haven’t driven up rates, what has is capital and infrastructure projects.’’
In any case, Porirua does not have high debt compared to some other councils, Mr Leggett says. ‘‘Porirua is not in that situation.
‘‘We do have our issues of course, one being high rates.’’
New guidelines to restrict councils’ mandates to core services do not have any bite, Mr Leggett says – most projects would still go ahead under the loose guidelines.
‘‘It’s a kind of tough talk but it actually doesn’t really follow through. If you can prove public good and local good, you can still do it.’’