The Salary Commission approved raises of up to 34.6 percent Thursday, while a County Council member has introduced a charter amendment to try to slow down the money train.
After some discussion about whether the mayor should be paid more than some department heads who are required to have licenses, training, education and experience, the commission voted 5-3 to give the mayor a $30,581 raise (23.2 percent) to $162,581, and the second-in-command, the managing director, a $34,607 raise (29.1 percent) to $152,611.
The County Council chairman will get a 32.8 percent raise to $77,017, and other County Council members will get 34.6 percent more, to $70,008. The county clerk, legislative auditor and other positions also received raises. Those raises were approved 7-1.
The mayor and many top administrators last got raises in 2014, while others haven’t seen a raise in almost 10 years.
Commissioners said they had to make up for lost time with the big bumps, and they agreed to look at a second phase where raises would come more frequently, in smaller increments.
But Commissioner Milton Pavao, who voted no on both sets of raises, said it was just too big a hit.
“I think this is excessive, very excessive,” Pavao said. “It puts a burden on the finances and I don’t think it sends the right message.”
Other commissioners pointed to statements made earlier in the meeting by Finance Director Deanna Sako, who said the county had set aside a “provision for compensation adjustment” to prepare for union collective bargaining agreements this year. There should be enough money there, she said, for the management-level raises too.
Commissioners said they estimated best salaries being somewhere between what Maui pays and what the City and County of Honolulu pays. The county needs to be competitive, they said, if it wants to attract quality people.
The administration has had problems filling positions. The all-important Public Works director, for example, has been vacant since Sept. 1. The charter requires a licensed professional engineer in that position.
Commission Chairman Hugh Ono said after the meeting that commission members didn’t discuss Hawaii County’s lower cost of living or lower property values when deciding on the raises. Maui has a $705 million operating budget; Honolulu’s tops $2 billion. In comparison, Hawaii County’s budget is $491 million.
Raises go into effect March 1, and together with raises approved last month, will add more than $1.3 million annually in raises, including benefits. Salaries come mostly from property tax revenue.
Meanwhile, Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy has sponsored a charter amendment to be heard by a County Council committee at its Feb. 6 meeting. It requires three positive council votes before being put on the November ballot.
Lee Loy said Thursday she was “disturbed” by the commission discussion. She especially wants to see more public input into the process.
Lee Loy’s proposed amendment slows down the approval process to provide safeguards for the public by requiring, at least 30 days prior to the approval of any salary adjustment, public notice of the proposals in at least two daily newspapers in the county, at least two public hearings — one in East Hawaii and one in West Hawaii — and a “detailed report” of how the commission reached its recommendations, which would be open for public inspection.
In addition, any proposed increase or decrease of more than 10 percent would be subject to a two-thirds affirmative vote of the entire membership of the commission.
“If approved, this amendment would shed light on the decision-making process used to determine the salaries of officials covered by the Salary Commission and invite deeper public participation and scrutiny,” Lee Loy said.
Salary Commission meetings are open to the public and notice of the meetings are posted on county bulletin boards and online. But, other than individuals lobbying for specific raises for various departments, there has been little public input.
No member of the public addressed the commission Thursday.
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.