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 firstname.lastname@example.org.