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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 1:18 p.m., Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Council approves vehicle weight tax increase

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Staff Writer

As expected, the City Council today passed a 60 percent increase in the motor vehicle weight tax rate on a 7 to 1 vote.

The vote ensures that police officers will receive raises for the first two years of a new four-year arbitrated contract.

Rank-and-file Honolulu police officers will not be the only ones getting a raise this year.

With the increase approved, middle managers such as captains, majors and assistant chiefs will also get raises. Fire Department managers and city deputy corporation counsels who aren’t covered by union contracts will also get pay increases.

To car owners, the weight-tax hike will mean money from their pockets — approximately $16 to $34 when registering their vehicles each year.

Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi yesterday said giving raises to excluded managers was the key to taking another look at the weight-tax increase plan the council set aside earlier this month.

"We agreed to go back in special session to look at pay for them," Kobayashi said.

Mayor Jeremy Harris supported the motor-vehicle tax hike to pay police.

The raises for the excluded managers will cost about $365,000 for the current fiscal year ending June 30, but Kobayashi does not expect it to affect the tax hike. It was unclear yesterday how many managers would get raises.

The city has been struggling since September to find $5.8 million to pay for the raises and benefits in the first year of the police contract reached through arbitration. All four counties have approved the State of Hawai'i Organization of Police Officers contract, but Harris has informed the council that none of the counties can pay their officers the raises until Honolulu comes up with a source of funding.

The tax increase will bring in $5.5 million through June 30, and $13 million the next year, according to administration estimates — bringing in close to the $5.8 million for the first year of the contract.

Since January registration bills have already been sent out, the higher taxes will not be reflected until February’s bills go out at the beginning of the year.

On average, car owners will pay the extra $16 to $34 on their taxes, depending on how heavy their vehicles are. For instance, Toyota Corolla sedan owners will have to pay $18.97 more, Toyota Tacoma pickup truck owners will see a $26.62 jump and Toyota Highlander sport-utility vehicles will cost their owners another $27.30 a year.

Council members were under pressure from the administration to pass the measure today. It was the last chance to pass a hike that would take effect Jan. 1. Kobayashi said the administration projected an $87 million shortfall in next year’s budget with passage of the weight-tax increase.

The council decided to reconsider the increase after learning some middle managers within the police, fire and corporation counsel departments did not get the raises, while those below them did.

With the 4 percent raises this year, the highest paid rank-and-file police lieutenants would make $5,336 a month — $156 more than the current $5,180 monthly salary for some of the higher ranking captains.

Without adjustment to the middle-managers’ salaries, by the end of the SHOPO contract in 2006,

80 percent of lieutenants would make as much or more than

20 percent of the majors and

80 percent of the captains, according to information provided by the Police Department.

A letter to council members signed by Deputy Chief Paul Putzulu on behalf of Police Chief Lee Donohue supported raises for the excluded managers. "The (excluded managers) should receive fair compensation for the additional duties and responsibilities required of them," it read.

Adding on the excluded employees will not alter the weight tax, Kobayashi said. Excluded police managers and employees would receive 4 percent raises for the four-year union contract — costing the city $245,000 this fiscal year and $887,758 for the length of the contract.

Firefighters received 1.5 percent raises for the two-year contract awarded this year. To give excluded managers the same raise this fiscal year would cost $37,984.