Pay raises for council, mayor are put on hold

Panel plans to further study salaries before reviewing again

WAILUKU — Maui County Council members and the mayor won’t see a raise for the time being after the Salary Commission Friday decided to delay action on increasing their salaries.

Instead, the commission plans to further study pay raises for the council and mayor, a process that could take six months to two years. The decision comes just five months after the commission voted to boost pay for county directors and deputy directors by 3 percent.

“I was very supportive of the directors and deputy directors getting a small increase,” commissioner Peter Martin said after the meeting. “But I wanted to study council and the mayor salaries because I knew they were higher than the other counties. The more I looked into it, I think we should rethink how we could get the very best council.”

Following the commission’s vote in December, the county’s 31 directors, deputy directors and auditor received a 3 percent pay increase on Jan. 1, which brought salaries to $111,517 (transportation deputy director) on the low end to $155,736 (fire and police chiefs) on the high end. Council members currently receive $76,475, while the council chairperson earns $82,225. The mayor is paid $151,979.

Kelly Swanson, who was unanimously voted in as Salary Commission chairwoman Friday, has proposed several times since the start of the year to also increase council and mayor salaries by 3 percent. But her proposals have lacked the votes to pass the nine-member panel.

Martin, who voted to approve director and deputy director cost-of-living increases but has opposed the same increases for council, said he wants the panel to take time before further adjustments are made. He added that he does not have a position on the mayor’s salary.

Prior to the meeting, Martin said he was proposing to lower council salaries by 50 percent and raise four department directors (Planning, Public Works, Environmental Management and Water) by 50 percent. However, neither Martin nor any other commissioner proposed pay adjustments at the meeting.

With no proposals on the table, the commission decided to change course. Commissioners will now start an information gathering phase during which department heads, along with council members and the mayor, will be invited to present data to help guide future salary adjustments. Requested information will include job descriptions, benefits and compensation packages, and subordinate pay scales.

The informational gathering process can take between six months to two years, according to Swanson and Deputy Corporation Counsel Gary Murai. The length depends on scheduling availability for the officials.

When asked Friday if it was a concern that the directors received an increase and not the council, Swanson said yes, but did not elaborate. She added that the panel is working toward a system for fair and incremental increases.

Part of the reason behind implementing 3 percent increases for cost of living was to avoid large increases all at one time, which occurred in 2013 and again in 2016, according to Swanson, the veteran member on the board.

The mayor’s salary was last increased July 1, 2016, by 12 percent. At that time, directors and deputy directors also saw a 12 percent bump in pay, according to county data.

Council members and the chairperson last saw an increase in 2013, when pay was increased 15 percent to the current rates, county data shows. Prior to that, their last increase had been in 2007.

The commission, which also unanimously approved Clark Abbott as vice-chairman on Friday, is tasked with determining pay for elected and appointed county leaders. Its next meeting, which is open to the public, is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. July 19 at the Kalana O Maui building in Wailuku. Community members who serve on boards and commissions are volunteers and are not compensated for their time.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.