Council panel approves employee raises

WAILUKU – The Maui County Council’s Budget and Finance Committee gave its approval Tuesday to various funding requests, including those to support raises for firefighters and other county employees, along with more funding for trash collection and landfill operations.

The committee deferred action on two other requests – one for the purchase of an apartment building for affordable housing and another for further study of a historic site in Lahaina.

The panel recommended approval of around $23 million to pay for a Nov. 30 arbitration decision and award for firefighters, battalion chiefs and assistant chiefs. The money will cover pay raises and fringe and health benefits for a little more than 300 firefighters for fiscal years 2012 through 2017.

The arbitration award does not affect Fire Department office staff, the fire chief or his deputy, county officials said.

After the meeting, county Budget Director Sandy Baz said money has been put aside for the firefighters’ pay and other increases for fiscal 2014.

While Committee Chairman Mike White said he supports firefighters receiving more pay, he’s concerned about the “growing expense line” for the county at a time when revenue generated by the private sector is not growing at the same pace.

“For me, it’s just financial,” he said of his comments.

Some council members pointed out and agreed that no matter what the contract award numbers look like, the employee pay increases came through binding arbitration that makes debate of the matter moot.

In other action, the committee recommended full council approval of a bill to appropriate $1.15 million for this year’s fiscal year budget for salaries, raises and fringe benefits for some employees in the departments of Environmental Management, Finance, Liquor Control, Public Works and Water Supply.

The raises are for those in bargaining units 1, 2, 3, 4 and 13. The units represent various workers, including blue-collar and clerical employees.

The bill affects only those employees who are paid through the county’s special funds, Baz said outside the meeting.

The committee also called for approving a bill for $864,000 for the solid waste management fund for this current fiscal year.

Department of Environmental Management Director Kyle Ginoza said the funding would assist with landfill operation and refuse collection costs and help the department comply with regulations.

He reminded council members that what residents pay for refuse pickup does not cover the entire cost of the service. He added that the department has rising costs as the county nears the halfway point in the fiscal year, and officials are better able to forecast a shortfall.

The committee deferred a bill to appropriate nearly $1.5 million for a grant to Nexus, a nonprofit organization from San Diego that proposes to purchase a 12-unit apartment in Wailuku for an affordable housing project.

Although council members expressed support for the project, they wanted to clarify whether a 30-year-old commitment by Seibu to build affordable housing for its employees was still binding on $456,000 it provided to the county to satisfy an affordable housing requirement tied to approval of the Makena resort.

The funds sat in the Department of Finance Treasury, earning interest and now are worth around $1.5 million, county officials said.

Some council members noted that the old agreement committed the money to affordable housing for Seibu employees. There were questions about whether that provision still stands because Seibu no longer owns the Makena resort and about whether housing should first be made available to employees of the new owners of the resort.

And, the committee deferred action on a bill to set aside $200,000 for an archaeological inventory survey related to the federal government and the county’s Mokuhinia Ecosystem Restoration Project in Lahaina.

Loko o Mokuhinia was a 17-acre pond that surrounded the ancient island of Moku’ula, the ancestral home of Hawaiian ali’i and the royal residence for King Kamehameha III from 1837 to 1845.

Council members questioned the need for an archaeological inventory survey that county officials said was ordered by the state Department of Land and Natural Resource’s State Historic Preservation Division. Some council members said a similar study had already been done.

Council Member Riki Hokama questioned the need to have the $200,000 come out of general obligation bonds.

“I just refuse to pay interest on $200,000 that we can cash out,” he said.

Baz replied that the overall project could be in the millions of dollars and at the time of the request for the funds the county was short on cash, so the administration decided to borrow money from the bond market.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at