Mayor Phil Goff has asked his top staff for an explanation after Auckland Council's wage bill went $42 million over budget.
The council's 2016/17 annual report shows $853 million went on wages across the Auckland Council Group, which includes council-controlled organisations (CCOs) like Auckland Transport and Watercare.
The number of high-ranking executives earning more than $200,000 a year has increased from 155 last year to 194. Around a fifth of all staff earn more than $100,000 - 2322, up from 1780 three years ago. Five earn more than $480,000.
There are currently 11,893 people on the Auckland Council Group's payroll, up from 11,591 last year (equivalent to 10,063 full-time employees, up from 9870). Nearly half of them - 5,399 - earn less than $60,000.
The lowest-paid council employees are on what it calls the living wage of $18, or around $37,500 a year. This will rise to $21 an hour ($43,700) by 2021.
Mr Goff - who was elected on a promise of reducing waste - told NZME Ports of Auckland's purchase of two new businesses was behind the boost in staff numbers, and if they aren't counted, the council actually cut 11 jobs.
Twenty-eight former employees were paid a total of $976,226 during the year to June, nearly half of that - $405,739 - going to a single person. Another $773,557 was spent on 19 employees, departing CCOs and other Auckland Council-owned organisations, $275,000 of that to a single person.
"While we aim to resolve any issues within the terms of employment agreements, there are occasions where a severance payment is the most pragmatic option," chief executive Stephen Town said at the weekend.
Mr Town - who got a $34,000 payrise to $690,000 - says the council cut 108 back-office jobs, off-set by new hires working on projects like the City Rail Link.
Council watchdog group the Ratepayers' Alliance said Mr Goff was "failing" to keep his promise of "tackling the council's wasteful habit".
"They're all blaming the CEO and ducking for cover instead of leading from the front and cutting wasteful spending," said spokeswoman Jo Holmes.
"Auckland ratepayers [are] now paying 6 percent more this year for council salaries. A staggering 52 percent of rates are now used by the council just to pay staff."
While the $853 million wages bill is slightly more than half of the council's 2017 rates revenue of 1.64 billion, rates actually make up less than half the council's total revenue of $4.13 billion. While the total operating expenditure exceeded the budget by $122 million, debt was $467 million lower than forecast at $7.9 billion. The operating surplus for the year, before gains and losses, was $340 million, and the council retained its AA credit rating.