Panel aims to inspire ‘good’ leadership with hike in salaries

The mayor won’t be the only one getting a raise.

On Friday, the Maui County Salary Commission voted to increase the salaries of County Council members, Fire and Liquor Control department heads and the new county auditor.

In February, the commission gave Mayor Alan Arakawa a 19 percent raise, from $114,030 to $135,696 annually beginning in July, with members saying the position had not seen a increase since 2007.

The same will apply to the County Council. On July 1, the start of the next fiscal year, members will see a 15 percent increase in their annual salary in line

with increases for county department heads and the mayor, approved by the Salary Commission in February. That means a council member’s salary will jump from $66,500 to $76,475. The council chairperson will see an increase from $71,500 to $82,225.

These adjustments were made to accommodate a demanding schedule for council members, according to commission members.

“Some people say it’s a part-time job, but from what we’ve seen, County Council is a full-time job. They have to make themselves available to the public 24/7,” said Stephen West, who was recently elected chairman of the Salary Commission after the raises were approved.

The last time council members saw a salary increase was in 2007. With the new salaries approved last week, Maui County will be paying its council members more than any other county in the state. The City and County of Honolulu, for example, pays its council members $54,019 annually and the chairperson, $60,354.

West defended the raises for Maui County councilors, calling them appropriate given the amount of work required. He noted that Maui County council members attend more meetings and don’t have Neighborhood Boards to help them ease the legislative burden as on Oahu.

“Hopefully, this will inspire good leadership at the top,” said West. “We have expectations that they will continue to work very efficiently and if they don’t, the public has the right to vote them out.”

The commission also approved salary increases for the heads of the Fire and Liquor Control departments, as well as increased the pay for the new county auditor.

The fire chief was given a salary increase to match that of the police chief, according to John Buck, executive assistant to the mayor who attended the meeting last week.

The fire chief’s salary will be bumped up from $126,900 a year to $135,000. The deputy fire chief also will receive a raise, in accordance with the commission’s February decision to equalize the salaries for all county deputy department directors at 90 percent of what their department director will earn. The deputy chief’s salary will increase from $120,450 to $128,250.

This will be the second salary increase in less than two years for Liquor Control department heads. The last raise was granted in September 2011, but according to county officials, that was because the Liquor Control director did not receive a raise in 2007, when all the other department heads were granted pay increases.

“So they’re playing catch up,” said Buck.

The raise approved last week will up the Liquor Control department director’s salary from $102,820 to $118,243. The deputy director will see a raise from $95,400 to $106,418. However, unlike other county departments, the money will come from the Liquor Control department’s own operating funds collected from fees, not from the general fund.

Though the county has yet to hire a county auditor, the commission voted to increase the auditor’s salary from $100,000 to $117,000. This is the only salary increase that has been made effective immediately. County officials recommended the measure in hopes of drawing more qualified applicants for the job, according to Buck. He noted that Kauai County pays its auditor $115,000.

Still, some county officials question whether or not these pay raises are coming at the best time.

“The private sector that supports the county with all their tax dollars has come back a little bit, but we still have not rebounded to the point necessary to easily provide and support the level of increases that the (salary) commission has come up with,” said council Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Mike White. “That doesn’t mean that they’re not justified, it just means they may be a little ill-timed.”

Council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa reserved comment on the Salary Commission’s decision, noting that she was not at Friday’s meeting.

The salary hikes were approved by the commission by a vote of 5-3. One of the commissioners who voted against the measure did so because he advocated for an even higher pay raise. Another voted “no” because he was new and said he needed more time to make an informed decision, according to Buck.

The salary hikes approved at last week’s meeting will cost the county a total of $149,866 for the salaries. Added to the hikes approved in February, the county will be spending nearly $480,000 more on county officials’ salaries in the next fiscal year.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at