Budget increase proposed for Mayor’s Office

WAILUKU – The budget for the staff and operation of the Mayor’s Office is proposed to rise 15 percent next fiscal year – including two new administrative assistant positions – according to presentations made before the County Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Monday.

Mayor Alan Arakawa’s administration’s proposed budget, which includes the salaries, operations and equipment for the mayor and his assistants, is $2.1 million for next fiscal year that begins July 1 – a 15 percent increase from this year’s adopted budget of $1.8 million.

The proposed budget includes money for two new administrative assistant positions that were hired this year, which brings the total staff to 30 not counting the mayor, said county Budget Director Sandy Baz on Monday.

If the mayor’s proposal is approved, it would be the first in four years that the mayor’s office budget for wages would increase. Due to difficult economic times, reductions in the budget for administration sa-laries and operations have ranged year-over-year from 0 to 8.2 percent, according to the mayor’s office.

Baz mentioned that nearly $86,000 has been budgeted for raises approved by the Salary Commission.

At the meeting, the mayor’s Chief of Staff Herman Andaya cited the mayor’s “open-door” policy, which allows anyone in the community to talk with him, as the reason for the increase in office staff.

“We’re seeing our executive assistants are getting more taxed,” he told councilors.

Andaya also pointed out that the current regular wages for the mayor’s staff is about $200,000 less than the $1.7 million that was approved during the 2011 fiscal year of the Charmaine Tavares administration. That was the highest regular wage figure during the Tavares years; wage figures were as low as $1.3 million in fiscal year 2008.

The meeting then moved to the department’s Office of Economic Development where Director Teena Rasmussen said her goal with her proposed budget is to “help sustain existing jobs” and to fund nonprofit organizations and small-business owners.

For example, a grant of $22,000 given to Haliimaile Pineapple Co. three to four months ago would allow the company to flash freeze pineapples. The county money will help defray some of the $100,000 it will cost the company to retrofit an old freezer with “instant quick freeze technology,” said President Darren Strand in a phone interview Monday.

“The technology gives us shelf life and inventory that we don’t normally have,” he said.

About 20 percent of the company’s fruit is not sellable due to appearance, though the fruit is perfectly edible and tasty, he said. The technology will help the company send its product internationally to countries such as Japan.

The quick-freezing of pineapples is expected to begin in two weeks, said Strand. The project will create nine new jobs.

Like Haliimaile Pineapple, Rasmussen has an international focus, particularly on a “growing Asian market.” Her office is offering programs to help businesses add more multilingual workers and to focus on countries such as South Korea, Taiwan and China.

“We need to focus our efforts more on international, not just domestic,” she said.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.