Police getting a 16.8% pay raise, can the counties afford it?

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For the first time in two years, police officers across Hawaii are getting a pay raise.

It’s the result of binding arbitration between the State of Hawaii Police Officers Union (SHOPO) and the four counties.

The police officers have been working without a contract since 2011.

SHOPO represents about 2,900 police officers across the state, ranked lieutenant and below.

They’ll be getting a pay raise of 4% compounded annually, that amounts to about 16.8% over the next four years.  And the new contract started on July 1, 2013.  It expires in 2017.

“It’s something we’re very very happy about, and we’re thankful for the arbitrator’s decision.  It’s deserving of what the officers go through daily and especially their families not knowing if their dad or mom are going to make it back home,” SHOPO President Tenari Maafala said.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said in a statement: “Supporting our police officers and paying them competitive salaries is very important to recruiting and maintaining the strongest police force for Honolulu and keep us one of the safest big cities in America.  However, the wage increases set by the arbitration panel are far more than we anticipated.  My priority for this administration is to focus on providing improved core services, such as road repaving, sewer infrastructure, bus and rail transit, and better maintenance of our parks facilities.  It is clear that the City administration and the Honolulu City Council will need to address revenue enhancements while looking for additional cost savings if we are going to meet our financial obligations.  City expenses continue to rise, and, as leaders, we will need to find new ways to pay for these expenses while providing needed services to all of our residents.”

Honolulu City Council Budget Committee Chair Ann Kobayashi said they have enough money to pay for this year, but they’re unsure about the future.

“Whenever we have a cost like this, we need to do one of two things.  We either need to cut back services so we can meet these cost demands, or we need to raise revenues, increasing taxes or increasing fees in order to meet these revenue demands,” Honolulu City Councilman Ikaika Anderson said.

Starting salary for a Honolulu police recruit in HPD’s Training Academy was about $53,000/year prior to the new contract.

“Once pay raises are granted through arbitration, the City and County of Honolulu is obligated to pay it.  We don’t have a choice,” Anderson said.

Two years ago, police officers were asked to take a pay cut because of the tough economic times.

Other city and county workers — including their commanders in the police department — were taking pay cuts or were getting furloughed.

But SHOPO fought it.

“There are 293 eligible to retire. If there’s a pay cut, I guarantee you almost all those officers are going to leave,” Maafala said in 2011.

The officers did not end up taking a pay cut, but didn’t get a pay raise either.

“A contract like this will definitely stop officers from wanting to relocate for the mainland because we’re definitely closer to pay parity with respect to all West Coast departments,” Maafala said.

A Maui County spokesman said the award is higher than expected, but they respect the arbitrator’s decision.

A Kauai County spokeswoman said they just received the information and have no comment at this time.

And Hawaii County hasn’t gotten back to us yet.

“We look forward to working with the Caldwell administration, and my colleagues on the City Council to meet the challenge,” Anderson said.

Related story: Honolulu police to receive 16.8% pay increase

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