The Far North District Council has leapt up the rankings in an league table of the nation's councils thanks largely to its efforts to bring down debt.
The Far North languished near the bottom of last year's Local Government League Table but this year leap-frogged 18 places. It is now ranked 37th, roughly mid-field of the country's 67 district and city councils. Last year it ranked a lowly 55th.
Whangarei remains stuck at number 62, earning it the label of ''consistent cellar-dweller'', while Kaipara has dropped to last for its financial woes and high debt per ratepayer.
Larry Mitchell of Puhoi, who independently compiles the table and describes himself as a finance and policy analyst, said the Far North had shown a marked improvement over the past year.
''It has some distance to go but has certainly made progress. That's largely because it has decided to grasp the nettle. It's one of the councils that has set off on a debt reduction programme instead of increasing debt,'' Mr Mitchell said.
Councils are scored on both financial sustainability and affordability. Sustainability includes factors such as debt levels and whether the council puts money aside to replace infrastructure; affordability is a measure of the community's ability to pay, taking into account factors such as average income and employment. The figures are combined to arrive at a final score and hence the ranking.
In a separate ''traffic light'' ranking system for other factors, such as earthquake liability and qualified audit reports, the Far North went from amber to green.
Mr Mitchell, who has been shown the door a number of times by the Far North District Council, said one area it could improve on was ''a friendlier approach to the democratic process''.
Chief executive David Edmunds said the new ranking reflected recent years' work to turn around performance across the council.
''One of the major factors is likely to have been improvements in financial management including an $8.6 million reduction in our public debt over the last 12 months to just over $100 million.''
Mr Edmunds said the council would continue that fiscal prudence in this year's Draft Annual Plan, which aimed for an end-of-year operating surplus of about $14 million. That could then be used to fund capital expenditure.
While the Far North was doing well compared to its peers in Northland and its rise in the league table was encouraging, Mr Edmunds said there was still ground to be made up.
This year's top performers were in the rural south with Clutha and Southland tied for first place, followed by Rangitikei. Nelson and Wellington were the best performing cities. The table does not include regional councils.