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County Council may not fund pay raises for mayor, administration

Some express doubt that now is the right time for 12 percent increase suggested by Salary Commission

The Maui County Council may choose not to fund 12 percent pay raises for Mayor Alan Arakawa, his department heads and deputies.

During Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s Budget and Finance Committee, all eight council members present expressed unease about the pay hike approved in December by the Maui County Salary Commission. Under the county charter, the commission determines the compensation of elected officials and appointed department directors and deputies. Commission members are appointed by the mayor with the approval of the council.

The committee begins budget deliberations today.

Budget Committee Chairman Riki Hokama said the charter does not require the council to fund the pay raises, specifically. (Instead, departments could pay for them from their own budgets.)

Hokama said the council has chosen not to fund directors positions in the past.

Committee members said it’s not a good time for such high pay increases, and they wondered how the raises would impact departments’ budgets and how they would affect the county budget with pending public employee union negotiations coming up.

Salary Commission Chairman James Likes told the committee that the pay raises were comparable with what union employees have been given over the last four years. Department heads did not receive pay increases during the same period, he pointed out.

The pay hikes also were to address salary inversion, which happens when lower-level employees make more than their superiors. Likes said the raises are in line with the department heads’ immense responsibility.

The committee deferred the matter. But council members expressed dissent during the meeting.

“I’ve made my thoughts quite clear, in here and in my column in the newspaper. I’m not happy about this at all. I think it’s a very significant increase at a time when (Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar) is going out. We have Makena (Beach & Golf Resort) closed,” said council Chairman Mike White.

White said he was not taking issue with the performance of the directors, but he noted the increases were higher than what is seen at the private sector.

White said he suggested to the commission that it give smaller, incremental increases over several years, but that suggestion was declined.

Later, White suggested that if salary inversion were an issue then salary increases could have just been given to those department heads and not to those unaffected by inversion.

Council Vice Chairman Bob Carroll called the hikes “very disturbing,” and he added that Arakawa’s administration indicated it didn’t want a raise.

Hokama reminded the committee several times that the salary issue is out of council members’ hands and only under the purview of the Salary Commission.

Council Member Alika Atay said “this is not an appropriate time for this kind of increase.”

He added there should be a meeting between the Department of Finance and the commission regarding the county finances before raises are considered.

In December, the commission approved the 12 percent pay raise, which is retroactive to July 2016. The decision hiked Arakawa’s salary from $135,696 to $151,980.

Department director and deputy salary increases vary, but the lowest-paid director, the director of the county Department of Transportation, saw a salary increase from $107,410 to $120,299.

Likes told committee members the pay hikes were not made lightly, and the commission met with the heads of each department to review their duties and responsibilities.

“These are very large responsibilities,” Likes said. “They are the ones that have to answer lot of customer (complaints) . . . They are the front line. I think we don’t give them proper credit for being that front line.”

“We spent a lot of hours, covering every one of these people and their responsibilities are overwhelming. You don’t see them until you know what they do,” Likes later added.

He said that the last time the department heads and deputies received a raise was in 2013 and since then their rank-and-file employees have seen pay increases.

Likes said the 12 percent increase actually represents several smaller percentage salary increases over the past four years.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Gary Murai, who serves as legal counsel for the Salary Commission, said members are advised to not make decisions on salary based on personality or performance because the person currently holding the job may not be the same person in two years.

In addition to meeting with department heads, Murai said the commission gets a briefing from the county budget director initially on the state of the county’s finances. The briefing on the county budget this past round was in late 2015, he said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.