KAILUA-KONA — The two top officials at Hawaii County’s Department of Water Supply received pay raises Tuesday after a performance evaluation by the Water Board during its last meeting of the calendar year.
DWS Manager-Chief Engineer Keith Okamoto made just over $130,000 in 2018 and will receive a roughly 5 percent bump, said outgoing Water Board Chair Craig Takamine. The increase will put Okamoto’s salary in the $137,000 range.
The board also lifted DWS Deputy Kawika Uyehara’s salary to reflect a total equivalent to 95 percent of Okamoto’s take-home pay, meaning Uyehara will clear right around $130,000 in 2019.
“We feel the new salaries we put in place today are very fair for not only the industry standard but the demands of those positions on Hawaii Island,” Takamine said.
Salary concerns for all public positions generally include keeping the numbers competitive so as to attract quality candidates when current occupants of the jobs decide to retire, resign or are relieved of their duties.
Takamine said, however, the raises handed out to Okamoto and Uyehara Tuesday were a reflection of both the difficulty of the positions and how well the two men performed in the face of challenging tasks.
“They need to preform at a high level, but you know it’s a very demanding position. Regardless of which island you’re on, it’s a very tough job and its a 24-hour job,” Takamine said. “They had an excellent review. They performed at a very high level.”
Both men received 8 percent raises in January, bringing Okamoto’s pay up from around $121,000 in 2017 to roughly $130,000 and Uyehara’s salary from about $110,000 to just under $119,000.
The board doled out those pay increases following one of the most tumultuous years in DWS history.
Of the department’s then 13 water sources in North Kona, five were simultaneously inoperative on two different occasions in 2017. Customers in the district spent a total of 362 consecutive days under either a mandatory 25 percent water restriction, or the same restriction accompanied by a mandatory halt on all non-commercial irrigation and the limiting of residential water usage to drinking, cooking and hygiene purposes only.
DWS, which added a 14th water source over the last year, was down four deep wells as of late November. However, Takamine said he believed the department either brought one of those four sources back online Monday or would do so in the near future.
Officials at DWS didn’t return a call for comment as of press time Tuesday, but it’s likely the Honokohau Deep Well is the functioning or soon-to-be-functioning water source. Officials said in November that repairs at Honokohau were underway and projected it may be pumping water as soon as early January.
Takamine, who will leave the board in less than two weeks after four years of service, said he believes the department to be in considerably better shape than it was a year and a half ago at the height of its struggles.
“I think they’re in a much better position now. Obviously, we’ve learned from our mistakes,” Takamine said. “The leadership in the department has done a great job coming out of that rough patch. … It’s good to get past a lot of things that happened in 2017 and look forward to becoming a lot better in the future. And I think they’re well on their way.”
Replacing Takamine as Water Board chair is current vice chair William Boswell Jr. Taking Boswell’s place as vice chair will be Eric Scicchitano. Both men have board terms that run until the final day of 2021.