Time to pay up?

LIHUE — Officials agree that considerable, and often unfair, pay discrepancies exist between certain Kauai County executives and their rank-and-file public employees, but precisely how to resolve the disparities — and in particular how to fund those irregularities — remains unclear.

The Kauai County Committee on Wednesday considered a resolution from an ad-hoc salary commission proposing $808,000 in funding to even the earnings playing field for county workers — executives and department heads in particular.

Committee member JoAnn Yukimura said she supported the resolution to fund the pay increases in the interest of fairness and attracting the best possible candidates.

“These raises, I don’t think, are out of proportion. It’s not about the money, it’s about whether we put a priority on this issue.”

Committee member Gary Hooser disagreed. “It is about the money,” he said. “A huge part of the equation is the ability to pay; if the county doesn’t have the ability to pay without raising taxes … then I will not support this resolution.”

According to the salary commission, Kauai County’s top public officials on average are earning about 89 percent of what their positions were advertised for several years ago, and most have not received a pay increase since 2009. Meantime, many of the employees working below them have gone on to out-earn their bosses by wide margins.

County committee members and members of the public said they understood the challenges of recruiting and retaining top-notch individuals for crucial leadership roles, but some attending the meeting voiced concern about paying for the pay increases over the long-term.

“There is something terribly wrong when you have a police officer that has to step down from a position to make more money doing something else,” said Kapaa resident Glenn Mickens. “You guys (committee) have a big job to do but the funds just aren’t there.”

From a county budget standpoint, Mickens added, “we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel as it is.”

Delaying the pay raises will ultimately cost more down the road, committee member Ross Kagawa warned.

“The threat of ‘kicking the can down the road’ is real; the longer we wait, the harder it’s going to be to swallow,” Kagawa said.

Committee members requested staff to conduct additional analysis on the pay issue and report back at its regular meeting March 9 at the Historic County Building. The full Kauai council has until April 5 to vote on the proposed pay increase resolution.

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