Thursday, July 29, 2004

Reserves’ city workers
might get pay

City employees who are members of the National Guard or Reserve forces might not have to give up their city paychecks when they are called for active duty, under a bill approved by the City Council Budget Committee yesterday.

The measure would give the city the option of paying those employees the difference between their city salary and military salary if the military salary is less.

The bill comes on the heels of the announcement that soldiers of the Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Infantry Brigade (Separate) have been ordered to report for active duty Aug. 16 to prepare for a year of combat duty in Iraq.

City spokeswoman Carol Costa said that so far, 42 city employees have received orders to report for active duty, with the potential for 250 to 300 or possibly more to be eventually called up.

Councilman Charles Djou, a lieutenant in the Army Reserve who is not being deployed, introduced the bill.

He said he did so after he learned about private companies like Sears, Verizon and Home Depot, as well as municipalities such as San Francisco, San Jose and Fresno, Calif., that offer to pay the differential benefit to employees who are reservists or Guard members.

"They all have said they'll pay the differences because they recognize the sacrifices that the families have to make," Djou said. "I think it's important that we make this gesture here in Hawaii."

But the city administration spoke against the bill.

Human Resources Director Cheryl Okumu-Sepe said that the city cannot afford to give such a benefit.

"When these vacancies occur as a result of the military call-ups, it'd be necessary for departments to then fill these positions on a temporary basis," she said.

Chris Diebling, budget and fiscal services deputy director, said that the money saved by not paying salaries would be used to hire temporary workers or bring employees in on overtime to fill the void. "We'd be put into quite a budget crunch," Diebling said, if the city had to pay the differential to employees who are not providing services to the city.

Councilwoman Barbara Marshall, who objected to the bill, said it is not fair that only one segment of those who are called up will be getting the benefit, even though all are serving the country.

"I wish we could afford to do it," Marshall said, "but because we're dealing with taxpayers' dollars, I just don't think we can create that level of unfairness."

Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi recommended the bill move forward but indicated that it will likely be amended. The bill is scheduled for a public hearing on Aug. 11.

City & County of Honolulu


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