HILO — Raises for the mayor, corporation counsel and several department heads could be in the works as the Hawaii County Salary Commission grapples with a way to make executive salaries more consistent.
The commission on Wednesday named a committee to look into the county’s salary structure and bring back recommendations next month that could be implemented in the 2013-14 budget that starts July 1.
“I don’t understand under what logic the mayor gets paid less than other county officials and the head of a department gets less than the deputies,” said Commissioner Brian DeLima. “I’m for more equity, for treating the personnel in a more equitable way.”
DeLima has said the old procedure, the automatic step increases that were paid every two years, is simply unworkable. The Salary Commission in 2009 froze the step increases because of the down economy.
Mayor Billy Kenoi currently makes $109,152 annually, less than the county prosecutor, police chief, deputy police chief and fire chief. The fire chief makes $114,768, the police chief makes $117,264 and the deputy police chief makes $111,792.
Kenoi, who was not at the meeting, told West Hawaii Today afterward that he hasn’t asked for a raise, and in fact, cut his own salary and that of his executive office staff voluntarily in 2008, a year before employee furloughs were implemented for most departments.
“I’m not sure now is the right time to raise salaries,” Kenoi said. “I’m OK with what I make. I don’t need to make the most. Money’s not the reason I do this job.”
Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida, like most department heads, makes $99,000, while some of his deputies make more. Under the county code, deputy corporation counsels can make up to 90 percent of the salary of the corporation counsel or the county prosecutor, whichever is higher, said Human Resources Director Ron Takahashi.
With the prosecutor’s salary at $113,580, that means Ashida’s deputies could make more than he does, up to $102,222.
A raise for Ashida got support from an unlikely place Wednesday. County Prosecutor Mitch Roth, who beat Ashida in a down-to-the-wire contest for prosecutor, told the Salary Commission he thinks Ashida should get a raise.
“I think his salary is too low,” Roth said, “and I think you guys should look to raising his salary.”
Roth asked the commission not to cut his deputies’ salaries because they are working especially hard because of a recent crime wave and are now handling nine murder cases.
DeLima also asked the commission to look into raising the salaries for the directors of the Department of Parks and Recreation and Research and Development. Those directors make $94,284, while most other department heads make $99,000.
Commissioner Pudding Lassiter said directors of crucial public safety functions like police and fire protection should continue to receive higher salaries because of the importance of their positions.
The commission asked Takahashi to look into what other counties are doing with salaries and report back next month.
That could give Kenoi a boost. The Maui Salary Commission last week gave that county’s mayor a 19 percent raise, to $135,696.