Commission to mull new salary schedule Monday

The Salary Commission may vote Monday on a new salary schedule for department heads, deputies and elected officials.

If approved, salaries would be kept at the same levels that were set in 2009.

The existing plan was established in April 2004, when a tiered system was created and department heads were placed in different tiers.

The pay schedule, since frozen, included step movements whereby an executive would move to the next step in the pay scale every two years. But if an official from the Harry Kim administration, for example, were re-appointed by the Billy Kenoi administration, that person would have to start from the bottom step of the pay grade.

The pay plan proposed by Human Resources Director Ron Takahashi does away with steps and tiers and has one set schedule for department heads, deputies and elected officials.

Last March, Salary Commission Chairman George Handgis sent a letter to county department heads soliciting feedback on a status quo salary plan that shows the 40 top positions cost $3.5 million in salaries, not including benefits.

Council Chairman Dominic Yagong gave input to the commission, as did Finance Director Nancy Crawford.

Yagong identified 86 positions, comprising elected officials, department heads and their deputies, and submitted a spreadsheet with the proposed salary cuts. If approved, the mayor, who is paid $109,152, would have his salary reduced to somewhere between $99,110.02 and $96,053.76.

In all, Yagong identified savings of between $705,420.40 and $920,113.56.

“The recommended reduction in salary does not suggest that our salaried employees are not doing a good job for the people of the County of Hawaii,” Yagong said in his March 13 letter. “The recommendation reflects the continuing trend of reduced revenues in real property taxes collected. These employees represent the higher paid tier of non-union county workers. These salary reductions would be a first step of many that needs to be taken as we continue to deal with the tough economic times ahead.”

Crawford asked the commission to retain salaries at current levels.

“Most employees have seen their pay held at the same level for four years,” she said in a March 14 letter to the commission. “Their pay is further reduced by the one-day-per-month furlough that is in effect (through June 30, 2013).”

Crawford asked that any salary increases be postponed until after the 2012-2013 fiscal year. Though some increases may be warranted, “to do so at this time would negatively impact the county’s proposed budget, employee morale and public perception,” she said.

Brian De Lima, a member of the Salary Commission, said he looked forward to what other commissioners have to say, but the Hilo lawyer was not open to across-the-board salary cuts without a series of public hearings.

“That’s a large number of people. That’s a large number of families,” De Lima said Friday. “These are real people,” and Yagong’s proposed cuts would impose “significant impacts” on large numbers of people, he said.

Also providing comment was Fire Chief Darren Rosario. Rosario’s salary is $114,768 per year to oversee a department with 425 employees, 175 volunteer fire fighters, 21 stations, and paramedic and ocean safety (lifeguard) duties.

Rosario would like the commission to make his pay comparable to the Maui County fire chief, who makes $126,700 to oversee a 310 employees, no volunteer fire fighters, 14 stations and no responsibility for paramedic and lifeguard duties.

De Lima said he would like the commission to end the practice of giving County Council members raises based on how many terms they’ve served in office. Eight of the lawmakers, who are paid on a part-time basis, make between $47,928 and $49,920. Yagong, as chairman, makes $54,336.

At the commission’s March 5 meeting, De Lima made a motion to set the council members’ salary at $48,924, effective at the start of the next term on Dec. 3. The discussion was tabled without a vote and will be continued at the next meeting, Monday at 10 a.m. in the Hawaii County Building’s Puna conference room.