Wrestling over county salaries continues

Is money orfairness

the issue?

By DENNIS WILKEN

TGI Staff Writer

The Kaua`i County

Council’s Finance Committee will meet Wednesday morning to again debate and

possibly decide if Mayor Maryanne Kusaka, her administrative assistant Wally

Rezentes Sr., Prosecuting Attorney Michael Soong and other department directors

and deputy department heads should get a pay raise.

The proposal, passed as

currently written, would give across-the-board ranges of salary hikes for 40

positions.

Soong and Kusaka, the only elected officials included in the

proposal, would receive approximately $7,000 raises.

Responding to what she

called “personal critics,” Kusaka told the council last week not to include her

in the package if that’s what it took to get “her people” raises.

And as

the Finance Committee’s chairman, Councilman Jimmy Tokioka, said in an open

meeting, he’s heard many people specifically mention the mayor when they are

opposing the raises.

Critics of the proposal have pointed out that the

mayor’s $73,000-a-year salary is already substantially more than Kauai’s median

income, and that she and all her employees are making more than a living Kaua`i

wage.

Opponents also note that Hawaii’s state retirement statutes allow

government pensions to be based on “the high three” – the best three earning

years a government worker has.

The implication is that these raises would

help Kusaka in her golden years, since she can’t run again for

mayor.

Proponents of the raises, including Kusaka, say department heads and

their chief deputies haven’t gotten a pay raise in almost five

years.

Proponents also point out that those county employees covered by

collective bargaining consistently receive raises, including this year, while

department heads and appointed officials don’t. This leads to situations where

at least two Police Department employees make more than chief George

Freitas.

Kusaka has has said repeatedly that the salary proposal isn’t

about the money but is a fairness issue.

Council members generally have

been hesitant to talk about the raise issue on the record. But if Saturday’s

primary election is seen as a mandate of sorts for the seven incumbents, a

raise might be expected.

Only Councilman Gary Hooser voted against the

proposal at its first reading, citing the fact that the raises would be across

the board.

Hooser has said that he doesn’t feel everyone in government

deserves a raise, and that he wants a strong performance-based criteria

included in the payraise ordinance.

Surprisingly, Councilman Randal

Valenciano, a seemingly strong supporter of the administration, expressed

similar feelings at the last council meeting, saying he couldn’t vote for the

proposal as it was currently presented.

Criteria for raises has been given

to the council by the administration, and Tokioka has been emphatic that he

wants a decision before, not after the general election in November.

“We

are not ducking this,” he said.

Observers expect the bill will be tweaked

to give at least the appearance of fairness and then will be approved by the

council, with the increases eventually being passed along to the

taxpayers.

Staff writer Dennis Wilken can be reached at 245-3681 (ext.

252) and dwilken@pulitzer.net

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