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County OKs 9 pay hikes, mulls more

April 29, 2014 - 8:06am

Six county department heads and three deputy directors will get 5 percent raises July 1, but heftier pay hikes for the County Council, mayor and top managers are less certain, following action Monday by the county Salary Commission.

The commission agreed to send a 20 percent raise for the mayor and a 12 percent raise for the County Council chairman back to the drawing board, as well as 8 percent raises for County Council members and 6 percent raises for the mayor’s two top managers.

Because the proposed raises wouldn’t go into effect until the next mayoral and council terms in 2016 and late 2014 respectively, there is time to do more work, the commission reasoned. A subcommittee plans to work on the issue before coming back to the commission June 10.

The commission unanimously approved raising the directors of Parks and Recreation, Research and Development, Liquor Control, Information Technology and the county clerk and legislative auditor to $99,000 annually. Three deputies were raised from $89,796 to $94,284, the salary of their bosses prior to the increase.

The raise puts the directors and deputies in line with 12 other top officials who received raises last year.

Commission Chairwoman Pudding Lassiter said commissioners received a lot of letters and telephone calls from the public, most of whom opposed the raises.

“(The subcommittee) decided they should look into it further,” Lassiter said. “I believe they made a wise choice to re-evaluate.”

Puna resident Morty Warren, testifying Monday before the commission, said Hawaii County can’t compare itself with Oahu and Maui when setting salaries.

“We’re a poor county. We can’t afford to pay this,” said Warren. “You want to play in the big leagues with a bush league tax base.”

Commissioner Brian De Lima said the commission has to balance county spending with attracting and retaining a strong workforce. He said the commission has been proceeding slowly and opting for the lower end of raises, rather than the higher end.

“We’re all taxpayers. We’re very concerned about the cost and size of government,” De Lima said. “You have to consider your options of who is willing to do the work and put up with the stress for the amount offered. You may not be able to get the best and the brightest.”

The subcommittee will also look into deputy corporation counsel salaries. The salaries of the 14 civil attorneys in the department are $99,240. They are all maxed out, under a county code that requires their salary to be no more than 90 percent of that of the corporation counsel or prosecuting attorney, whichever is greater.

Under the plan sent back for more work, the mayor’s salary would have increased by $21,666 to $130,818 annually. The managing director’s would have increased $6,300 to $110,244. The deputy managing director would have increased $5,732 to $104,736.

Council members would have increased their pay by $4,000 annually to $52,000. The council chairman would have made $58,000 a year, up $6,000 annually.

Puna Councilman Greggor Ilagan sent a letter to the commission, with copies to some of his constituents, telling them he would not accept a raise, and if it’s offered, he would donate the money to the Puna community. Mayor Billy Kenoi has also repeatedly refused a raise, saying he would donate his to the United Way.

“I hope it made an impact,” Ilagan said about his letter. “I’m not concerned about my salary. I’m here to make a difference. … It’s not about the money; it’s about trying to help the community I represent.”

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