LIHUE — Some Kauai councilmembers do not believe it is the right time to approve firefighter raises.
“I have to conclude they are not needed, and what they get now will be able to carry them so we can be able to address really critical needs of the community,” said Councilmember JoAnn Yukimura.
Councilmember Ross Kagawa said it’s not fair to the rest of the community that government employees get continual raises when the rest of the population does not.
“Is their pay high or low compared to today’s pay schedule? It’s pretty high as it is,” he said. “The public feels like they’re struggling and government workers are getting paid well.”
On Wednesday, the Kauai County Council voted 4-3 to approve Bill No. 2650, as it relates to the collective bargaining agreement for unit No. 11, which covers firefighters.
Yukimura and Kagawa, along with Councilmember Mason Chock, voted against the bill.
Councilmembers Arthur Brun, Arryl Kaneshiro, Derek Kawakami and Mel Rapozo voted to approve the increases. They did not discuss their positions at the meeting.
The Hawaii Fire Fighters Association, which represents firefighters, proposed a 2 percent across the board increase for this year. And, effective July 1, 2018, firefighters across the state will receive a 2.25 percent increase.
During the meeting, Yukimura questioned if the county can make good on its promises, considering the council will be taking $1.3 million out of the reserve fund for Fiscal Year 2017-18.
“But we cannot continue to do that year after year. Are we willing to raise taxes to pay for raises when the average pay (for firefighters) is $90,000?” she said. “I want to make it clear I admire firefighters who risk life and limb. I am not in favor of taking what they have. I just don’t think its sustainable to keep giving them salary increases when comparatively, they already have so much.”
For Kagawa, it’s about taking control of salaries.
“I’m not saying that breaking new ground is the way to go just for the sake of it. (But) at some point, the taxpayer is going to expect us to change the trend,” he said. “And I say now is a good time. When are we going to do it, if not now?”
The County of Kauai has eight bargaining units that represent government employees.
On June 12, the council approved collective bargaining agreements for units 2, 3, 4 and 13 between July 1 of this year and June 30, 2019.
Unit 2 represents supervisory employees in blue-collar positions. Unit 13 represents professional and scientific employees. Unit 3 represents non-supervisory employees in white-collar positions. Unit 4 represents supervisory employees in white-collar positions.
There are three bargaining units that are expected to go to council for approval.