KFD addresses pension spiking

  • Contributed

    County Council Vice Chair Ross Kagawa

  • Courtesy County of Kaua‘i

    Steven Goble is the new chief of the Kaua‘i Fire Department.

LIHU‘E — In February, the Mayor’s Office ordered the Kaua‘i Fire Department to suspend most overtime and nonessential expenditures to curb pension spiking, which has penalized the county consistently over the last few years.

Anywhere between six to eight KFD employees are expected to retire at the end of this year, resulting in about $1.1 million to $1.6 million in pension payments, depending on how many actually retire.

KFD Assistant Chief Solomon Kanoho explained that this number is in part due to higher-ranking personnel retiring, regular overtime and rank-for-rank collective bargaining with the Hawai‘i Firefighters Association.

KFD Chief Steven Goble, who started in July, ensured the County Council that extra-duty assignments were being better-managed through rotation, rather than being offered to the most-senior employees.

“A lot of times what we were seeing these folks as they approach their retirement, they were the ones that were first in line for a lot of these extra-duty assignments,” Goble said.

This year, the department began excluding opportunities, like community risk-reduction programs and training, from higher-ranking employees.

“Spiking” is when employees maximize their overtime as they near retirement, usually in the last few years of employment, to raise their average annual income. Many pensions are based on employees’ total earnings for the last three years before they retire. So, extra overtime can increase the base of pension payments.

The Employee Retirement System is about $21.75 million, over 10% of the county’s budget, council Vice Chair Ross Kagawa pointed out.

In 2018, the KFD incurred $2,248,560 in excess pension costs for 13 retirees. “That’s fishy. Something’s wrong,” Kagawa said.

From 2015 through 2017, Kanoho admitted there was “abuse to the system.”

Councilmember Luke Evslin pointed out that since he joined the council in 2018, he’s heard KFD say they’ve implemented measures to cut back, but it seems like they only started recently.

Kanoho said there have been increased steps taken at the start of this year, most notably to how KFD goes about re-certifying firefighters and training.

Since measures started so recently and the ERS takes into account the last three years of service, there will be a lag time before numbers will decrease.

“The things that we could control, we have put measures on there,” Kanoho said. But, when it comes to altering or touching collective-bargaining agreement which covers holiday pay and rank-for-rank overtime pay, “I know that’s going to lead to pushback from the union.”

Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro noted that when he voted in opposition to the two-year, collective-bargaining agreement with a 2% increase across the board last year, he faced backlash.

“You look at all the spikes, and by far fire is the highest spikers,” Kaneshiro said. “There is not one employee in the whole county that even reaches the lowest fire employee that spiked. I mean, how is that fair?”

Goble expressed that the collective-bargaining agreements tie the department’s hands, but they are moving in the direction the council wants to see.

Kagawa, who called for this discussion, appreciated the accountability the KFD had on the issue, thanking and welcoming Goble to the island.

“We represent our county employees, but our greater responsibility is to our citizens and innocent taxpayers that rely on us to make wise decisions,” he said.

“Although it may be uncomfortable sometimes, and many of the firefighters families and I don’t want go down this road, we have a greater responsibility when elected to the people of Kaua‘i to eliminate unnecessary spending.”

•••

Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or sbodon@thegardenisland.com.

8 Comments
  1. Ernie Pation August 7, 2020 3:34 am Reply

    Business as usual on Kauai and the state of Hawaii.

    Theft like this has been occurring for decades.

    This is not new.

    There are many theft cases in Kauai and state of Hawaii regarding county and state employees.

    You all wonder why the county of Kauai has not hired a county auditor since the Pasion debacle?

    Cover up so no one does the checks and balances.

    Easy when you have a blank check and no accountability and county employee raises ever year and sometimes twice a year. Now we are not talking about COLA raises of 1-2%, we are talking about the highest earners receiving 10-15% raises.

    This pandemic is a natural occurrence in third world corrupt governments and that’s why Kauai lives up to its name as the wild Wild West of the Pacific.

    No need auditor when everyone is stealing anyways.

    Took me 5 times to wrtlite this because they kept on erasing by refreshing the screen.


  2. Kelly Sims August 7, 2020 5:06 am Reply

    Pass a law that eliminates overtime being used for calculating retirement. Sounds reasonable to me.


  3. Joe August 7, 2020 6:46 am Reply

    “We represent our county employees, but our greater responsibility is to our citizens and innocent taxpayers that rely on us to make wise decisions,”

    It that is the truth, then…

    It’s time for a change in how KFD (and many other County departments) are structured. Kauai does not need a full-time FD with 8 stations and a massive annual budget. Time to implement a smaller, highly-trained paid department supplemented by volunteers. This is the standard in many other parts of the world. We don’t have many real fires. Most of the work is done by the medics (a private company). We need rescue and medics.

    And don’t believe those that say these heroes are risking their lives every day. A fundamental concept of first-response is NOT to become another victim. Rescuers are specifically trained NOT to get injured. How many firefighters have perished on Kauai?


  4. Kauaidoug August 7, 2020 8:18 am Reply

    Shameful. 10% of the county budget? Yikes. Must be nice to spike your pension.


  5. LMat August 7, 2020 8:51 am Reply

    Glad to see this hasn’t been swept under the rug and the council and the new chief are trying to do something about it. Thanks Ross for keeping this on the agenda.


  6. Kapahi84 August 7, 2020 9:13 am Reply

    Yes but they are so deserving of this! They work hard, they do good for they community. Nuff said.


  7. Khsgrad August 7, 2020 6:57 pm Reply

    Get rid of the UNIONS – they are crooks, just look at what recently happened and how many got fired for EMBEZZLEMENT!!!! UNIONS allow BAD employees to keep their jobs…. For example, the cop who killed The black man in Minneapolis, 16 infractions and he still kept his job- He was a bad cop- No different here on Kauai!!! The UNIONS have to GO!!!


  8. Da watcher August 9, 2020 8:22 am Reply

    Ok Ok here we go same story same players the two Battalion Chiefs one with 32 plus years they need to get that guy out!! Also they say those guys and the other two guys micro managing the fire Dept As for the Assistant chief those are the guys costing us big bucks hope some buddy finds out how much over time these guys are pulling GET RID OF THEM !!Rumor is everybody like the new Chief Goble hopefuly he see’s that those three guys are out for themselves time to drain the swamp!!


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