Salary Commission slows the raise train

  • Raises approved by the Salary Commission
  • Raises to be voted on by the Salary Commission Jan. 18
  • Mayor Harry Kim addresses the Salary Commission in Hilo on Thursday. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

HILO — Faced with the mayor and two County Council members urging caution, the Salary Commission on Thursday hiked salaries a little further in two departments, but postponed action on a dozen other positions — including the mayor and County Council members themselves — until its next meeting in January.

Proposed raises for all county officials run from 15 to 40 percent. Together, they would add about $1 million annually in raises, plus about $300,000 in benefits.


Mayor Harry Kim and Hilo County Council members Sue Lee Loy and Aaron Chung told the commission they were concerned the county budget couldn’t handle raises the commission awarded, especially raises that begin Jan. 1, halfway through the current fiscal year where budgets have already been set.

The commission has the final say on raises and is required by county charter to set salaries comparable with similar positions in the public and private sectors. It doesn’t have to take the budget into account, and its actions can’t be vetoed by the County Council or mayor.

Still, Kim and the two others felt compelled to weigh in.

“I do believe the inequity you are trying to address is real,” Kim said, noting that some county employees make as little as $18,000 annually. “I wish I had a magic wand. … The ones that need the raise the most are the lowest-paid.”

Chung also addressed fairness and employee morale, noting in written testimony that a single $42,000 raise awarded Corporation Counsel is more than many county employees make.

“And believe me, we have had to explain that to a large number of people,” Chung said.

The hit to the budget is also a consideration, all three of them said. They suggested phasing the raises in, rather than awarding lump sums.

“We’re going to have to be figuring out how to move money around to look at paying for some of these raises,” Lee Loy said.

But Commissioner Thomas Fratinardo, a Kim appointee, pointed out the charter specifically gives the commission the authority to make the raises.

“If the people want to make a change, it’s up to the people to put it on the ballot, if they don’t want us to do our job,” Fratinardo said.

Salaries for many top officials were last raised in 2014, while those in other departments haven’t seen a raise in a decade.

The proposed salaries were compiled and presented by Commission Chairman Hugh Ono, who was appointed by former Mayor Billy Kenoi.

“This commission realized pretty quickly we’re in a serious dilemma here,” Ono said.

He said collective bargaining agreements over the years steadily raised subordinates’ salaries, creating a salary inversion where many were making more than their bosses.

Previously hiked salaries for directors and deputies in the Planning and Human Resources departments were increased further Thursday, bringing the Planning director’s $99,000 salary to $132,744 and the HR director’s $99,000 salary to $128,628. The directors had received smaller increases at the commission’s Nov. 27 meeting.

Two testifiers, former county Managing Director Bill Takaba and planning consultant Sidney Fuke, asked the commission to consider raising the liquor director more than the proposed $27,420 to $126,420, arguing that the department is self-sufficient, relying on its fees rather than tax dollars.

Another testifier was Abraham Sadegh, a homeless man who frequently testifies before the County Council. He pointed out the median household income is around $55,000.

“I sleep on the ground. … For some to make twice as much as the average income just doesn’t make sense,” Sadegh said. “We need to decide what is best for us to be a paradise for everyone.”

The commission plans to next meet Jan. 18.

Raises Approved by Salary Commission

Position Current Salary New Salary Raise % Raise

Corporation Counsel $110,244 $153,226 $42,982 39.0%

Corp. Counsel Assistant $104,502 $145,968 $41,466 39.7%

Prosecuting Attorney $113,580 $153,226 $39,646 34.9%

Planning Director $99,000 $132,744 $33,744 34.1%

Planning Deputy $94,284 $126,420 $32,136 34.1%

Parks Director $99,000 $128,759 $29,759 30.1%

HR Director $99,000 $128,628 $29,628 29.9%

HR Deputy $94,284 $122,628 $28,344 30.1%

Parks Deputy $94,284 $122,628 $28,344 30.1%

Environ. Mgt. Director $110,244 $132,741 $22,497 20.4%

Finance Director $110,244 $132,722 $22,478 20.4%

Police Chief $130,818 $153,266 $22,448 17.2%

Public Works Director $110,244 $132,577 $22,333 20.3%

Environ. Mgt. Deputy $104,502 $126,420 $21,918 21.0%

Finance Deputy $104,502 $126,402 $21,900 21.0%

Public Works Deputy $104,502 $126,264 $21,762 20.8%

Fire Chief $130,818 $151,200 $20,382 15.6%

Police Deputy $126,894 $145,968 $19,074 15.0%

Fire Deputy Chief $126,894 $143,640 $16,746 13.2%

Prosecuting Assistant $107,904 $145,968 $38,064 35.3%

Raises to be considered next month by the Salary Commission

Position Current Salary New Salary Raise % Raise

Managing Director $119,004 $153,264 $34,260 28.8%

Mayor $132,000 $165,000 $33,000 25.0%

County Clerk $99,000 $126,420 $27,420 27.7%

Legislative Auditor $99,000 $126,420 $27,420 27.7%

Liquor Director $99,000 $126,420 $27,420 27.7%

Housing Director $99,000 $126,420 $27,420 27.7%

R&D Director $99,000 $126,420 $27,420 27.7%

Info Tech Director $99,000 $122,628 $23,628 23.9%

Deputy County Clerk $94,284 $113,778 $19,494 20.7%

R&D Deputy $94,284 $113,778 $19,494 20.7%

County Council Chairman $58,008 $77,016 $19,008 32.8%


County Council Member $52,008 $70,008 $18,000 34.6%

Deputy Managing Director $115,008 $132,744 $17,736 15.4%