Employee raises an unknown in budget

It’s a matter of guesswork to foretell the impact of pending public employee union negotiations and arbitration proceedings on Maui County’s fiscal 2013-14 budget.

For now, the proposed $573.6 million spending plan of Mayor Alan Arakawa’s administration rests on the current pay received by the county’s more than 2,000 employees, said Budget Director Sandy Baz on Wednesday.

In drafting its budget proposal, the Arakawa administration didn’t know how much to set aside for pay raises because negotiations and arbitration proceedings were pending, Baz said. He declined to disclose the administration’s contingency plans while negotiations are ongoing.

Maui County has 914 employees represented by the Hawaii Government Employees Association, 562 members with the United Public Workers, 321 police officers with the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers and 280 firefighters with the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association, according to Lance Hiromoto, director of the county Department of Personnel Services.

Not all county workers are represented by unions, Hiromoto said. For example, elected officials and all appointees in the Office of the Mayor are “excluded employees,” meaning they’re not members of unions.

As of Wednesday, county officials were awaiting rulings on arbitration proceedings for police and firefighters, he said. And, the county remained in negotiations with HGEA and UPW leaders. Their members’ contracts expire June 30.

Hiromoto said he was watching closely this week when a three-member arbitration panel awarded nearly 1,700 state government registered nurses 4 percent pay raises retroactive to Jan. 1 and another 4 percent pay hike beginning Monday.

While the arbitration award doesn’t set a precedent in labor negotiations, Hiromoto said union negotiators are likely to use the award as a point of reference as they argue for pay raises for their members.

Last month, public school teachers won a tentative agreement for the restoration of 5 percent pay cuts, a 3 percent raise in July and raises of 3 and 3.2 percent next year. The teachers are to vote on the proposed contract April 17.

According to an overview of the Arakawa administration’s fiscal 2013-14 budget proposal, the county’s 19 departments and agencies would have an estimated payroll of $145.1 million under the employees’ current pay.

So, using simple math, a 3 percent increase in pay for county employees would cost taxpayers $4.35 million, and a 4 percent hike would carry a price tag of $5.8 million. Those figures are rough estimates because they include pay for all employees.

Baz said he expects that the impact of potential pay raises will be discussed by the council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Monday when it reviews the Personnel Department’s spending plan.

Ironically, while it’s common knowledge that Hawaii’s overall economy is improving and that Maui County is the most fiscally sound government employer in the state, those factors would weaken the position of county managers negotiating to keep labor costs down for taxpayers, he said.

While a robust economy is good for the community and a boost for the county’s bond rating, “it makes union negotiations more difficult,” he said. “It’s a double-edged sword.”

Whatever is negotiated or awarded through arbitration, the County Council will need to approve final amounts as a cost item in the budget, Baz said.

Overall, Maui County has 2,497 full-time positions, and the administration proposes adding 53 positions for a 2 percent increase to 2,550.

Of those additional positions, the Department of Finance is asking for six new employees for its Division of Motor Vehicles and Licensing.

Finance Director Danny Agsalog said his department proposes to have two new employees at each of its satellite offices in Pukalani, Kihei and Lahaina. “The satellite offices are very popular,” he said Wednesday. “A lot of people are going there.”

So many go to the offices that customers sometimes wait an hour or more, Agsalog said.

The new employees would make it possible to open more windows in the satellite offices and serve customers faster, he said.

Agsalog said that, unlike the county Service Center at the Maui Mall in Kahului, the satellite offices don’t have a receptionist to screen customers to determine if they have all the needed documentation for transactions, for example.

The need to have all documentation in order has been exacerbated by new, more stringent federal requirement for residents renewing their driver’s licenses to have documentation proving they are citizens or in the United States legally, he said.

Sometimes people are missing the necessary documentation or signatures don’t match, he said, so they need to leave the motor vehicles office and return with more information.

After enduring a long wait already, “I’m sure they’re very unhappy,” Agsalog said.

To address such a situation, he said the Kahului Service Center will allow customers who’ve already waited in line and been screened for a transaction to get a “return card.” That allows them to return to the office and get service at a designated window without waiting in line again, he said.

He emphasized that the “return card” option is offered only at the Service Center and only for the same transaction.

* Brian Perry can be reached at