Police, Firefighter unions wild cards in budget


HILO — Hikes in property taxes, park fees, bus fares and vehicle registration and weight taxes will balance Mayor Billy Kenoi’s proposed $394.3 million 2013-14 budget, a 7.9 percent increase over this year.

But there’s still a wild card in the mix: Two major public worker unions have yet to complete collective bargaining agreements.

The budget accounts for the ending of employee furloughs at a cost of $4.2 million. Salaries for United Public Workers and Hawaii Government Employees Association union workers negotiated at the state level will be increased about 4 percent, adding another $2.9 million to the budget.

“We’re still awaiting arbitration on police and fire,” Hawaii County Human Resources Manager Nick Hermes told the county Merit Appeals Board on Wednesday.

Kenoi said he didn’t include possible raises for police and fire in his budget, because the law requires he budget only for those union raises that have been negotiated. And, he wouldn’t know how much to budget for anyway.

“We were hoping that we would get an arbitration decision,” before the budget was finalized, Kenoi said. “Absent an arbitration decision, absent any numbers, absent any degree of certainty, we don’t include the raises.”

If raises are ultimately part of the agreement, Kenoi said the county would find the money, even if it meant cutting other areas of the budget.

“We would find that money,” Kenoi said. “Clearly public safety is a priority for the community.”

There are currently 396 Hawaii County police officers in the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers and 330 Hawaii County firefighters in the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association, according to Hermes. In comparison, there are 951 HGEA employees and 524 UPW employees working for the county.

Hermes said an agreement with SHOPO is “imminent,” perhaps by the end of the month. An agreement with HFFA, however, is likely still “some months” away, he said.

Because of long-term agreements SHOPO and HFFA made in 2007, those employees received 5 and 6 percent annual raises while rank-and-file workers in other unions endured unpaid furloughs and a reduction of health benefits, a situation that caused some resentment among other county workers.

Union contracts are negotiated at the state level, with the governor getting four votes and the four counties getting one vote each.

SHOPO staff responding to a phone call said only President Tenari Maafala is allowed to speak about negotiations. He did not return a phone message Wednesday.