Wednesday | December 13, 2017
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Salary Commission OKs hefty pay raises for 20 county administrators

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas for some top county officials who will see double-digit raises as high as 39.7 percent.

The Salary Commission on Monday approved raises for 20 categories of top employees, increasing salaries by $11,904 to $42,982 come Jan. 1. The action covers the top administrative departments, the police and fire departments, the county prosecutor and top civil attorneys.

More raises, such as for the County Council, mayor and smaller divisions will be discussed during a meeting scheduled for Dec. 21. The mayor and many top administrators last got raises in 2014, while others haven’t seen a raise in almost 10 years.

Salary Commission Chairman Hugh Ono said large raises were required because of a “long-standing deficiency” in top salaries that had many directors getting paid less than their subordinates. The subordinates’ salaries are determined by collective bargaining agreements set at the state level in public employee union negotiations.

“The last pay raises were years ago,” Ono said.

Commissioner George Campbell agreed.

“Yes, the salaries seem high. But if you look at all the years with no raises, we’re not even close to that,” Campbell said.

Addressing the “salary inversion,” where a subordinate makes more than the boss, required big hikes. The commission, at Ono’s recommendation, hiked directors’ salaries so they were at least 5 percent more than the base salary of the highest-paid subordinate. The commission also compared county salaries to those on Maui, considered the closest in job duties.

“Some of these, if we take care of the inversions, which we should, there’s going to be some really happy people here,” said Commissioner James Higgins. “It should never have gone on this long.”

Commissioners voted 6-2 to approve the slate of raises, with Commissioners Harold Dow and Florence Ikeda voting no. Ikeda said she wanted more time to study the recommendations that were presented shortly before the meeting.

The county charter requires the Salary Commission to set salaries so there is a “reasonable relationship” to comparable public- and private-sector positions.

Raises approved by the Salary Commission cannot be vetoed by the mayor or overturned by the County Council. Commissioners are chosen by the mayor and confirmed by the council.

It’s not yet known how much the raises will affect the county budget, or how Mayor Harry Kim’s administration will adjust for them. The raises to base pay will also increase the cost of benefits, which account for about 30 percent added onto base pay.

Kim said he is considering addressing the commission during its next meeting. He said he opposed recent raises set by collective bargaining, and he worries about the impact the new raises will have on a budget that already required property tax hikes to balance.

“We don’t have any control over them, as we’ve been told many times,” Kim said.

Kim said he had thought the raises wouldn’t be effective until the new budget year July 1, but Finance Director Deanna Sako said there should be enough in the current year budget to accommodate the raises because of vacancies and money set aside for collective bargaining raises that weren’t known when the budget was calculated.

The highest raises, for the county prosecutor and Corporation Counsel, will have a ripple effect. Salaries for deputies in those departments are set by county code at no less than 50 percent or more than 90 percent of that of the director.

The Corporation Counsel, the top civil attorney, will see a $42,982 raise from $110,244 to $153,226 annually, a 39 percent increase. The prosecuting attorney, an elected position charged with enforcing state and local laws, will get a $39,646 raise from $113,580 to $153,226, a 35 percent increase.

Deputies and former deputies from both offices crowded the small conference room to ask the commission for raises. They said it’s hard to attract and keep qualified attorneys because of the low pay. Too often, they said, the county takes on and trains attorneys who then go elsewhere for more money.

“I’m not here to say we should be making these people rich,” said retired Deputy Prosecutor Rick Damerville. “I’m also concerned about retentionship.”

No member of the public testified against raises.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

 

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