Firefighter pay raises approved by county council

LIHUE — There is a new collective bargaining agreement for Kauai firefighters through 2021 as the Kauai County Council passed a bill that will usher in a new area for first responders with a 5-2 vote Wednesday during the council meeting at the Historic County Building.

Bill No. 2748 will grant a 2%, across-the-board raise increase for all Bargaining Unit 11 employees, which will come with a one-time, lump-sum payment for salary ranges SR-17 on July 1, 2019, ranging from $1,800 to $2,000, and a one-time, lump-sum payment for all Unit 12 employees in SR-17 salary ranges on July 1, 2020.

Firefighters with 28 years accrued service that are step L-5 will be granted a one-time, additional-lump-sum payment of $500, on July 1, 2020. The bill additionally creates a step L-6 for firefighters with over 28 years starting on June 30, 2021, at 11:59 p.m.

The total salary increase for the firefighters will be 3.2% over the next three years.

“When I first came in (on the council in 2012) the budget for fire was $22.6 million,” Council Vice Chair Ross Kagawa said of the bill he voted no on, stating he was in favor of a 2% increase only. “Today it is $33.8 million.”

Kagawa added that the budget for the Kauai Fire Department since 2008 has gone up 145%, comparing that to the Kauai Police Department that is at a 104% increase, and solid waste which has had an 88% increase in that time.

“Again our support of our wonderful fire department has been there from the county,” Kagawa said, adding that the annual budget is up to $5 to $6 million a year based on market values without the tax rate changing.

“If our salary increases take up all of that $5 to $6 million there’s nothing left for anything else like CIP and affordable housing,” he said.

Councilmember Felicia Cowden expressed concern about where the money spent on the raises comes out of the general fund.

“I agree that it’s problematic, but we can’t just continue to spend,” she said after giving a short presentation on the financials. “I’m going to vote yes, but I recognize there is a challenge.”

Councilmember Luke Evslin said he appreciates that firefighters put their lives on the line and have higher risks of cancer, but that is not what factored into his decision.

“For me, it comes down to just supporting the right to a fair negotiation process,” Evslin said. “And I think no vote on this pulls the rug out on that process and a group of people that can’t go on strike.”

Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro said he shared similar views with Kagawa.

“I don’t have anything against fire,” Kaneshiro said. “I have a ton of friends and family that work in fire. For me, it’s looking at the overall financial ability of the county, and when I talk to the union guys, they say, ‘spiking is not our issue, all these other things are not our issue. All we care about is how much our firefighters get increased.’ As county councilmembers, we got to look at the whole picture.”

Councilmember Mason Chock disagreed with a few of his colleagues’ ideology on the bill, offering the example of his time as a firefighter.

“I think that risk is still there for all firefighters,” Chock said. “I don’t know if there is a better example out of me being a firefighter and the risks that are associated with the job. Three ruptured discs, is that what it takes to prove that there is risk in the job? Since the age of 32, I haven’t been able to pass lung-function tests. So there is risk, there is risk in this job, and these guys are being exposed to it and whether or not they have found it yet, they are being exposed to this stuff.”

Kaneshiro and Kagawa voted no on the collective-bargaining agreement, with Cowden, Evslin, Chock, KipuKai Kuali‘i and Arthur Brun voting in favor.


Ryan Collins, county reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or

  1. Risk EveryJob June 28, 2019 2:29 am Reply

    Risk in every job so it’s rhetorical.

    The problem is gross mismanagement in all areas of gov on Kauai.

    All anyone has to do is take a look at the audits on county, police, fire, and DLNR and it’s horrible.

    Fraud, waste, and abuse is acceptable practice and one poses another rhetorical question of when does it end?

  2. Jake June 28, 2019 2:39 am Reply

    It’s time for a Council Member to ask the hard questions.

    It’s 2019, there are fewer fires, yet the number of firefighters keeps going up.

    Last statistic I saw, only 4% of responses were for actual fires. Responding to car accidents, false alarms, and as first responders (EMS) suck up much of their time.

    Maybe it is time for more volunteers and less full time firefighters? Maybe we hire more EMS….they are much cheaper? Maybe it is time to take more risk and increase the response time?

    My point: The aforementioned represents millions and millions of $$$$$$$ each year. Could the money be better spent for higher priorities and a better return-on-investment?

    As a Politician, I get it, “Don’t piss off the Police or Firefighters…..they will get you elected on this island”. It is time for someone to step up and ask the hard questions.

  3. Jeff June 28, 2019 5:53 am Reply

    Couldn’t believe when I heard Kagawa say “I never tell you (Big Island people) go build your subdivisions on an active volcano” during his presentation about the Fire bill at about 6 hours into the hearing. What a stunning and heartless statement about 700 families that lost their homes, especially coming from someone on Kauai. The whole state can say “we never tell you Kauai people build your homes and dams junk so they cannot withstand natural disasters”
    Some short your memory brah.

    1. Tooindependent June 28, 2019 10:25 am Reply

      Be careful you will insult his intelligence even though we all know with his track record of what always comes out of his mouth is the cause.

    2. LMat June 28, 2019 11:43 am Reply

      Kagawa spews the worse word-vomit to and about the people he is supposed to be serving. Can’t believe he got reelected, even after the negative publicity he received about his immature, anger-induced word-vomit to a constituent…!!! He is ridiculously ignorant, and in case you need reminding:
      Although I gotta agree with his no vote on this bill.
      County council, maybe address the systemic issues with overtime abuse, unethical hiring processes, lying, cheating and CORRUPTION clearly present in the KFD, KPD, DLNR and every other county department before you fling more money at these crooks and scoundrels…

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