LIHUE — Kauai County Council members deliberated on the prospect of increasing the pay for some county officials, including themselves, for nearly two hours before deferring a vote until the April 10 meeting.
Councilman Arthur Brun was not in attendance for the meeting Wednesday morning for personal reasons. Brun’s absence left the council with six members discussing the possibility of giving raises to 37 elected officials and department heads.
Council members were split on the issue.
“We need to show our people that we’re operating officially and tightly as possible,” said KipuKai Kuali‘i. “How can we be giving raises right now — big raises, to the top positions? It would be absurd. The people would go crazy.”
Councilman Luke Evslin had another view.
“Our motive here is not to necessarily save money — there’s no profit margin for us to look at,” he said. “How do we measure an effective police chief, whose training methods and management results in him putting out a fire quicker and saving somebody’s possessions. We can’t measure that on a financial statement.”
The proposed resolution was split into three parts.
The first covers the mayor’s salary along with 14 other positions that range from the county auditor to the county clerk.
Mayor Derek S. K. Kawakami’s salary would increase from $132,000 to $142,062.
The second is comprised of 15 positions ranging from the police chief to the county engineer. The police and fire chief salaries would both go to $137,022 from 127,313.
“Part two is the one that stands out to me as the one that needs the most attention because of the county engineer and because of the inversion issues that we are facing with our health, safety and emergency response departments,” Councilman Mason Chock said. “So that one sits as my priority, as the one I would like to see supported moving forward.”
The third part of the resolution calls for an increase in the council members’ pay, which would go to $67,956, while the council chair would receive $76,452.
The proposition of the raises was presented to the council by Managing Director Michael Dahilig, who is up for an 11.8 percent raise, and two members of the county salary commission, which approved the proposal at its March 7 meeting.
Council Vice Chair Ross Kagawa said the proposal for raises was “poor timing.”
“We haven’t even done the budget. We’re picking up a big ticket item before we even talk about the budget,” he said. “This administration has just started. They just started, and they have no vacancies, zero. Every position, and we want to give them big increases?”
The combined average annual salary for all county officials on the list, except council members, is slightly over $115,000.
The vast majority of the proposed raises — which, if approved, would take effect July 1 — are 7.6 percent, although a handful of officials are in line for larger jumps in pay.
Resolution 2019-1 calls for a 14.8-percent increase in the salaries for the following positions: County engineer for public works, which is currently vacant; County Attorney Matthew Bracken; Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar and the manager and chief engineer for the Department of Water, Bryan Weinand.
Those percentages translate to an average increase of about $10,000. All told, the proposal would cost taxpayers an extra $316,586. The most recent pay raise for these positions was in 2016.
Because of Brun’s absence, Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro suggested that if the vote was split 3-3, the council defer the decision until all seven council members were present. The resolution faces a 60-day deadline and must be approved no later than May 6 in order for the pay raises in the first two parts of the bill to go into effect by July 1. Part three of the resolution would go into effect Dec. 1.
“This is one of the only votes that we take where a minority vote can pass it,” Kaneshiro said. “We have one council member out, so it makes any decision even more difficult.”
Kaneshiro asked the council members to state how they would vote on the resolution, so they could be clear on whether there was a split in the vote and see if Brun’s vote would be needed. If the council had decided to take a vote at the Wednesday meeting, a two-vote minority would have passed the resolution.
Kagawa, Kaneshiro, and Kuali’i indicated that they would vote no on the resolution. Chock, Evslin and Felicia Cowden indicated that they would vote in favor of the raises. The split vote led to further consideration on the subject, requiring a full council to vote later.
“I will not be voting for this resolution today,” Kaneshiro said. “I do appreciate everything the salary commission has brought, and I completely understand everything that they did, and I actually agree with what they did — the increases that they did. For me, the problem is the timing, the timing of this. I really do have a problem with doing this increase when the department heads have only been in office for six months.”
Ryan Collins, county reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.