City’s proposed pay raises need scrutiny and explanation
A city panel has recommended pay increases for elected and appointed officials.
THE city Salary Commission's preliminary recommendation to raise the pay of Honolulu's top officials
will be presented to the public before final rates are set.
That's when taxpayers should weigh in because law allows raises to go forward without City Council action, thereby removing a measure of accountability.
The recommendation for increases range from a high of 9 percent for the city prosecutor to a low of 3 percent for the Royal Hawaiian Band director. The mayor and Council would see boosts of 6 percent; department heads and deputies, 5 percent; and the fire, police chiefs and their deputies, 8 percent.
The proposal comes nine months after the last round of raises became effective with the mayor and Council members having gotten a 5 percent increase; department heads, 4.5 percent; the chiefs, 6 percent; and the prosecutor, 10 percent.
The commission considers pay of bargaining unit workers and municipal officials elsewhere, inflation and economic conditions in making recommendations.
Until the Council sets property tax rates, the city's revenue picture won't be clear. The increases will add another $277,878 to the $4.9 million in current expenses for officials' salaries, which isn't a significant amount, considering the city's budgets run more than $2 billion.
Nonetheless, city taxpayers still deserve an accounting. This not to say appointed full-time officials, particularly those in law enforcement and emergency positions, do not merit pay raises. Neither should elected officials be denied reasonable earnings, though at least four have other employment or retirement income.
Council members -- whose pay would go from $49,245 to $52,200 and who also receive health insurance, pension benefits and $12,000 a year for personal expenses, such as travel -- meet nearly year-round. In comparison, state legislators, whose time is required for only three months a year, make $37,500, which will go up incrementally to $57,852 in six years.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann would be paid another $7,686 over his current $128,100 while city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle would earn 9 percent more or $129,312.
Like everyone else, elected officials have to deal with the ever-rising cost of living,. However, they also should justify pay increases to taxpayers.
The commission's recommendations will stand if the Council doesn't actively reject them within 60 days of presentation. Members can disapprove or approve individual increases, including their own, by a supermajority of seven votes. Or they can sit back and let the increases go through automatically. Voters should watch what happens.