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Big raises coming for Kenoi, top officials and County Council

June 12, 2014 - 10:37am

Mayor Billy Kenoi will get a $22,848 raise next month, and top county managers and County Council members will also see pay hikes, under a plan advanced Tuesday by the county Salary Commission.

Kenoi’s raise, a 20.9 percent increase, will bring his annual salary to $132,000. Kenoi has repeatedly said he doesn’t want a raise, but Commissioner Brian De Lima said the mayor’s opinion isn’t relevant.

“We’re not giving a person, we’re giving the position, the salary,” De Lima said.

Kenoi reiterated his feelings in a phone interview Tuesday. He said he would work with the Finance Department and the Human Resources Department to ensure the money is donated to the United Way.

“I’m not taking a dollar of that raise,” Kenoi said. “I made that promise, and it’s a promise that I intend to keep.”

Managing Director Wally Lau would get a $15,056 raise to $119,00, and Deputy Managing Director Randy Kurohara would get a $16,000 raise to $115,000.

Council members would get an 8.3 percent raise, increasing their pay by $4,000 annually to $52,000. The council chairman would make $58,000 a year, up $6,000 annually, or 11.5 percent.

It’s a tricky time for council members to be getting raises, right at the start of what looks to be a heated primary election season. Although the council has no control over the raises, the issue is sure to become fodder on the campaign trail.

Four incumbent council members face challengers, with one — Puna Councilman Greggor Ilagan — facing a crowded field of three challengers, including a former councilwoman. Ilagan could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

In addition, Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter faces a single challenger in her race, Larry Gering, who frequently criticizes government spending before the council, especially regarding salaries.

Poindexter said she sees the raise as a cost-of-living adjustment for what is a full-time job. Council members’ payments for benefits such as health insurance have also increased, she said. She said her council schedule would make it impossible for her to pick up a side job to augment her salary.

“I work days, nights and weekends,” Poindexter said. “When I took this job, I took it as a full-time job; I don’t think it can be done part-time.”

The raises, once formalized by a Salary Commission vote expected July 8, would have an effective date of July 1.

Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi, who is running unopposed, questioned whether the raises could go into effect, since they weren’t part of the budget.

“It wasn’t anticipated so we didn’t put it in the upcoming budget,” Onishi said.

The raises would add about $76,000 to the budget recently passed by the council and now awaiting the mayor’s signature. Although it’s not in the budget, Finance Director Nancy Crawford said it’s likely the amount could be absorbed in the budget in an account set aside for compensation adjustment, with no need for a budget amendment.

The raises were recommended by a three-member Salary Commission subcommittee that looked at the county budget, salaries in other counties and whether officials were making less than their subordinates.

Even with the raises, the Hawaii County Council has the lowest paid council members in the state, the subcommittee said.

The commission had previously considered a recommendation that the salaries not go into effect until a new mayor and council took office, but the subcommittee, composed of Commissioners De Lima, Michael Sumja and Marcella Stroh, decided to make them effective with the start of the new budget year.

The subcommittee also noted in its findings that the City and County of Honolulu, as well as Maui, pay their mayors and top administrators more. The county of Kaui is currently considering a salary plan that would, even with its proposed raises, again put Hawaii County at the bottom of the state in official’s salaries.

The Hawaii County charter gives the Salary Commission the responsibility to set salaries of top officials in the county. Coming off almost a decade of no salary adjustments, the commission would be derelict in its duties if it didn’t give them now, commission members said.

“The subcommittee had to play a catch-up game,” said Stroh.