HILO —A charter amendment is unnecessary, Salary Commission officials told the County Council on Wednesday, because the commission is changing its administrative rules to add more transparency to the way it doles out raises.
Those assurances weren’t enough, however, to satisfy council members, who’ve heard loud and clear from constituents that double-digit raises for the county’s highest officials were over the top in a year when taxes were raised to balance the budget. The raises, to 36 positions whose salaries are controlled by the commission, add about $1.5 million to the annual budget.
The council voted 9-0 to pass Bill 98, the ballot initiative on its second of three required readings. If approved, it will be placed on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Both the administrative rules and the charter amendment require more public notice of proposed salary changes, more opportunity for public participation and meetings videoconferenced to both sides of the island.
“We have heard the concerns of both the public and the County Council,” Salary Commission Chairman Hugh Ono said. “In the end, the County Council will do what you have to do, and we as the Salary Commission will do what we have to do. But I know that our hearts are in the right place.”
The commission based decisions about raises as high as 40 percent on the length of time since the last raise, whether subordinates were making more than their bosses, and on compared salaries with Maui and Oahu.
Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, the bill’s sponsor, said she is “really pleased” with the actions the Salary Commission is taking. She said she’d like to see the ballot initiative proceed anyway, because administrative rules can easily be changed, while amendments to the charter are more permanent.
“This is about giving our electorate the ability to make the decision,” Lee Loy said.
Other council members agreed.
“We had quite a groundswell from our constituents about their concerns,” said Kohala Councilman Tim Richards. “I think it puts good checks and balances in place and allows the community to weigh in.”
“The public took notice of what the Salary Commission did,” said Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara. “I think it’s good that the public gets to weigh in and decide for themselves how much transparency they want to see in the whole process.”
One of the biggest raises this year went to Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela, whose salary went up by $42,982 or 39 percent, to $153,226. That position last received a raise in late 2013, when the salary went up 11.3 percent to $110,244.
County Council Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter got a 32.8 percent raise to $77,017, and other County Council members got 34.6 percent more, to $70,008. Council members last got a raise in 2014, with the council chairman getting an 11.5 percent raise to $58,008. Other council members got 8.3 percent raises, bringing their salaries to $52,008.
Mayor Harry Kim got a $30,581 raise, or 23.2 percent, to $162,581. In 2014, the mayor received a $22,848 raise, or 20.9 percent, bringing his salary to $132,000.