LIHUE — Citing bad timing and an uncertainty in the ability to make good on its promises, the Kauai County Council Wednesday voted 5-2 against proposed salary increases for county administers.
Voting with the majority to reject the proposed salary increases, councilmember Ross Kagawa questioned whether it was a viable expense in such a tight fiscal year.
“Can we afford (increases) at this point in the county’s current fiscal situation?” he asked. “Are we able to currently commit those funds?”
Councilmember KipuKai Kualii agreed.
“I support rejecting all salary increases; now is not a good time,” he said. “As a council, it’s our job to manage the finances of this county, as far as setting the budget. Our most important job is to set the budget and set salaries.”
In the minority, councilmembers Arryl Kaneshiro and JoAnn Yukimura disagreed.
Kaneshiro said the salary increase will keep and attract the best and the brightest employees.
“Keeping the salaries stagnant hinders us,” he said.
Yukimura made a motion to reject the salary increases for the bottom-tier employees — including the director of economic development, director of liquor control and deputy attorneys.
Current salaries, Yikimura said, “are pretty adequate — I’ve looked at comparisons across the state, and they aren’t far off. I think they can stand for now.”
Yukimura said she preferred to pass the salary increases for top-tier employees.
“We need to acknowledge and properly compensate the executive leadership in the county,” she said. “They are incredibly critical positions, for which we need to attract high level talent … I believe these increases are overdue.”
But Kagawa said that essentially amounts to micromanaging the salary resolution commission’s efforts.
“Let’s accept their work,” he said.
The salary resolution, which was brought to the council in February, asked for a 4.3 percent increase for more than 30 county employees for 2016-2017.
As proposed, wage increases would include $840,000 for mid-range workers and their supervisors and $960,000 for department heads and executives.
The resolution asked for double-digit increases for executives like the director of finance and county attorney and single-digit increases for mid-range workers like the county auditor and and the director of economic development.
For example, under the resolution, the director of finance, who is paid $107,335, would see a $15,834 increase. The director of liquor control, whose salary is $103,041, would get a $6,519 increase.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr., said the raises were overdue.
“I made the decision, as mayor in 2009, to freeze all salaries,” he said. “We have qualified men and women who have put their heart and souls on the table, and it’s important to see how much of an impact each department has in various areas. We’re not talking about certain people. We’re talking about structure, and the positions needed to make things happen.”
During public comment, Bob Crowell, who served on the salary resolution commission, pointed out that the proposed increases are suggested caps, the salaries of the individual workers won’t have to reach the maximum amount.
“Actual salaries will be dependent on the appropriate appointing authority —whether it be a board of commission, the council, or the mayor,” he said.
There’s never a good time to raise salaries, Crowell added.
“However, at this time, we feel the increases are modest enough to tolerate,” he said.
When deciding salary figures, salary resolution commissioners considered license and advanced degree requirements, as well as department size and responsibilities, Crowell said.
While there’s no immediate plans for the money appropriated for salary increases, the council will be discussing it more, Kagawa said.
“It’d be foolish of us not to put those moneys to good use,” he said. “We’ll have to find a useful place for that money to go.”