Editor’s note: Civil Beat is updating its Public Employee Salaries Database for the 2022 fiscal year that began July 1. Click here to see the latest from all state and county agencies, as well as all information for prior fiscal years dating back to 2011 and a portal to related articles.
When it comes to the annual salaries of high-level county workers in Hawaii, the larger the population the more lucrative the pay.
Top officials at the City & County of Honolulu generally earn more than their counterparts on the neighbor islands, usually followed by Hawaii County, Maui County and Kauai County in that order.
But there’s a significant exception: Maui County Council members take home considerably more than council members on the Big Island. And both those jurisdictions pay more than what Honolulu City Council members get. The paychecks for Oahu’s leaders are barely higher than those on Kauai, according to Civil Beat’s Public Employee Salary Database.
Using Hawaii’s public records law, we’ve requested salary information from all state and county governmental agencies as of July 1 when the 2022 fiscal year began. We’ve been collecting and publishing the salary data since the news site launched in 2010, although the neighbor island data only goes back to the 2018 fiscal year for Hawaii and Maui counties and to 2016 for Kauai.
The Maui County Council’s financial advantage does not extend to other elected officials.
Honolulu’s mayor, for example, has been paid far more than mayors on the neighbor islands during all three of the fiscal years for which direct database comparisons can be made — 2022, 2020 and 2018.
Same goes for Honolulu’s prosecuting attorney, managing director, corporation counsel and police and fire chiefs.
‘Of Course It’s A Full-Time Job’
Maui’s council members earn $76,475, except for the chair who receives $82,225. Hawaii County comes next at $70,008 ($77,016 for the chair), followed by Honolulu at $68,904 ($76,928 for the chair) and Kauai at $67,956 ($76,452 for the chair).
Three of the councils have nine members while Kauai has seven.
The gap has actually lessened, because the Maui council pay has been the same since 2013 while the others have risen since then.
That will change Dec. 21, when a 2% raise will take effect for the Maui mayor and council members.
To Alice Lee, the disparity in council pay between Maui and the other counties is simply a sign that the Valley Isle is getting it right, at least “comparatively.”
The job “requires a tremendous amount of time” spent working with constituents, making site visits and preparing for meetings, said the Maui County Council chair.
The county government serves three islands, including Molokai and Lanai, and even though council members are elected from residency districts, they all represent the entire county, Lee said.
This is her second stint on the council after serving from 1989 to 1999.
“When I got elected the first time we had a very paltry salary,” Lee said, adding it was important for the county to make the pay “reasonable.”
Otherwise, she said, “what happens is you have a smaller pool to choose from” in terms of qualified candidates.
The pay levels of elected officials in Hawaii are set by salary commissions, and when it comes to legislative bodies, there is sometimes disagreement about whether the jobs are full-time or part-time. State senators and representatives are often considered to be citizen legislators, for instance, and in fact they are paid less than council members in all four counties.
In Maui County, Lee said, there should be no debate: “Of course it’s a full-time job.”
Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters did not respond to a request for comment about the council salaries paid on Oahu.
It’s not his only job. Waters reported income in 2020 from his private attorney practice and from his position as safety officer for Dura Constructors, a Honolulu construction company.
Playing Catch-up On The Big Island
Maui County may include three islands, but Hawaii County has by far the most territory and is second only to the City & County of Honolulu in population.
Still, the Big Island’s salaries for top officials were well below Maui County's until 2018. That’s when the Hawaii County Salary Commission approved substantial pay raises for its top officials, including a 34.6% increase for council members from $52,008 to $70,008 — the chair went up 32.8%, from $58,008 to $77,016.
The corporation counsel pay shot up nearly 40 percent from FY 2018 to FY 2020, the prosecuting attorney by nearly 35%, the managing director by 29%, the mayor by 23% and the police chief by 17%.
Suddenly, Hawaii County’s pay was second only to Honolulu's for most top officials, other than those Maui County Council members.
Pay raises for top employees in all four counties were smaller, or even nonexistent, when comparing FY 2020 to FY 2022 — a period partially impacted by the pandemic. But there were some notable salary hikes in Kauai County.
Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami's pay increased by 7%, from $132,000 to $142,062. He’s still Hawaii’s lowest-paid mayor, behind Honolulu’s Rick Blangiardi at $186,432, the Big Island’s Mitchell Roth at $162,582 and Maui County’s Michael Victorino at $151,979.
Kauai Managing Director Michael Darling's pay rose by almost 14% from $119,376 to $136,008. Honolulu’s Michael Formby earns $178,320, the Big Island’s Lee Lord, $153,612 and Maui County’s Sananda Baz, $148,714.
Matthew Bracken, Kauai’s county attorney, got the same nearly 14% increase as the managing director, while Kauai Police Chief Todd Raybuck got a 7.7% increase from $127,213 to $137,022.
Because they are represented by the same unions with the same or similar bargaining agreements, numerous employees such as police officers and firefighters often earn identical salaries in all four counties. That is generally advantageous to those working in Hawaii and Kauai counties, since the cost of living is generally higher on Oahu and Maui.
The overall county workforce sizes have been relatively unchanged since FY 2018. There are 2,676 Hawaii County employees in the salary database for FY 2022, for Maui County there are 2,641 and for Kauai County 1,352.
The City & County of Honolulu's total, including legislative employees and the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, is 10,545 workers.
The latest U.S. Census figures show a population of 963,973 residents on Oahu, compared to 201,521 in Hawaii County, 168,307 in Maui County and 72,543 in Kauai County.
That totals up to one county employee for every 91.4 residents in the City & County of Honolulu, one for every 73.3 residents in Hawaii County, one for every 63.7 residents in Maui County and one for every 53.6 residents in Kauai County.
Coming soon: A look at salary information for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.
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