Thursday | October 27, 2016
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Salary Commission reconsidering raises

HILO — It’s back to the drawing board for the county Salary Commission.

After hearing from members of the public Thursday who were mostly opposed to proposed raises, the commission decided to do more work on the plan rather than implementing it in time for the new fiscal year that starts July 1.

“This calls for some heavy deliberation and thinking,” said Commission Chairwoman Karolyn Lundkvist. “After listening to everything everyone said, we really need to think about it.”

But Commissioner Brian De Lima said adjustments are needed.

“We’re on an island where a lot of citizens do struggle to make ends meet. … Those concerns are not lost on me,” De Lima said. “I do appreciate the struggles many of our families have. … (but) this is not going to take away significant resources that are being used to meet our county’s needs.”

Commission Vice Chairwoman Pudding Lassiter agreed. Lassiter was one of three members of a subcommittee that brought forward the recommendations.

“The public has to recognize that these are the people who are the leaders,” Lassiter said. “If we don’t take care of the people who take care of us, then we’re lost.”

The committee’s recommendations included a $22,000 raise for the mayor, to an annual salary of $131,154. Mayor Billy Kenoi has said he doesn’t want a raise, and if it is given to him, he’ll give it to Hawaii Island’s United Way.

Kenoi told West Hawaii Today on Wednesday that he wouldn’t oppose raises for his “hard-working” department heads, but he didn’t want one himself. Finance Director Nancy Crawford sent the commission a letter, saying the county’s budget is too tight this year to afford raises.

The raises would cost a total of $224,646 annually, not including benefits. The recommendations are based on what other jurisdictions pay and what the highest subordinate salaries are on the premise that workers shouldn’t make more than their bosses.

The commission plans meetings in June and July to finalize a salary plan.

Gertrude Pauline of Hilo noted that the minimum wage hasn’t been raised in years, and people have to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet.

“The state always says it doesn’t have money, the county always says it doesn’t have money. But there’s money for raises? It doesn’t make sense,” said Pauline. “You’re taking from the seniors, you’re taking from the poor, you’re taking from the less fortunate. You’re taking from the struggling taxpayers.”

“What in the Sam Hill are government officials trying to do? Foment civil unrest?” added John Callahan.

But a member of the Fire Commission and a former member of the Police Commission urged the Salary Commission to look more closely at increasing salaries for the fire chief and police chief.

The commission isn’t recommending changes to salaries for the fire chief, who currently makes $114,768, or the deputy fire chief, who makes $109,296, on the theory that they make more than their highest paid subordinate, who is paid $100,044.

But Fire Commissioner Toby Taniguchi of Waimea said the subordinate’s salary is misleading, because first responders typically rack up a lot of overtime, in addition to incentive pay.

The average salary for a firefighter is closer to $120,000 a year, Taniguchi said.

“We will be hard-pressed to find individuals willing to take on more responsibility … with less pay,” Taniguchi said.

The fire chief’s salary was raised in January 2012. Other top officials haven’t had raises since the step increases were discontinued in 2009.

The Salary Commission is recommending a $12,567 raise for the chief of police, raising his salary to $127,335, and a $14,802 raise for the deputy police chief, to $124,098. The highest subordinate salary is $123,624.