After raise, DWS official still third-highest paid of four similar positions

KAILUA-KONA — Keith Okamoto, manager-chief engineer with the Hawaii County Department of Water Supply, got an 8 percent raise from the Water Board on Tuesday and will remain the third-highest paid person in his position across Hawaii’s four main counties.

Water Board Chair Craig Takamine said the raise was mostly tied to Okamoto’s performance, which he praised despite a year for DWS that saw a water shortage in North Kona due to rampant deep well equipment failure and usage reductions that persisted across the region for nearly an entire year.

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“We feel like they’re doing a great job,” Takamine said Tuesday.

Takamine added, however, that the board evaluated similar positions across the state and determined that 8 percent raises for both Okamoto and DWS Deputy Kawika Uyehara were “fair.”

The figure factored in each man’s performance, as well as the fact that some of the highest-paid civil servants they managed within the department were making nearly as much as Okamoto and more than Uyehara.

Okamoto’s raise will nudge his salary just above $130,000 this year, while Uyehara will now be paid just under $119,000.

According to numbers provided by Takamine on Wednesday, the Honolulu Manager-Chief Engineer Ernest Lau currently earns a salary of $180,019, while Deputy Manager-Engineer Ellen Kitamura makes $169,480.

Maui’s Department of Water Supply Director Dave Taylor is paid $135,884 annually and Deputy Director Gladys Balsa makes $121,288 yearly.

Sarah Blane, who works in the Kauai County Mayor’s office, said Manager-Chief Engineer Kirk Saiki makes $119,357, while the county’s Deputy Manager-Engineer position pays $114,582 annually. The deputy position is currently vacant.

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The Water Board’s decision comes on the heels of big raises for top county officials including Mayor Harry Kim, who received a raise of $30,581 to push his salary to $162,581, and Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth, who was awarded a bump of $39,646 that elevated his yearly pay to $153,226.

The Salary Commission, which doled out those pay hikes, noted some similar justifications as Takamine, saying top officials were making less money than their subordinates. The commission also mentioned it had been several years since many of the jobs were afforded raises.