Ways to generate revenue other than property taxes sought

Testimony on the fiscal year 2015 budget over the last several weeks has provided useful information on important needs and wants in the community.

But County Council members haven’t heard a lot on how to generate revenue to fund the needed and desired programs. Where will the money come from?

The answer may partially lie in grant writing.

It’s well known the county is grantor to nonprofit organizations. But it is in the county’s role as a grantee – the recipient of grants from the federal government, state government or private foundations – where untapped sources of revenue exist.

Achieving greater proficiency in grant writing requires investment in personnel, training or both. But, as I can attest from my career as a nonprofit executive, good grant writers more than pay for themselves.

The council’s Budget and Finance Committee begins decision making on the county’s annual budget Monday. I intend to reiterate my view that accessing federal, state and private grants should always be a priority for the county.

Some departments are already experts in this field. For example, the police department has long been successful in obtaining grants from the U.S. Department of Justice for community policing and other law-enforcement projects.

There may be other investments that would generate more revenue. We have seen, for instance, that providing additional personnel in the real property tax division has resulted in a more accurate and equitable tax system.

Another issue in budget deliberations is determining the extent to which various agencies and programs should be subsidized by the general fund, which is primarily derived from real property tax revenues. To minimize general fund subsidies, user fees for some county services must be increased to cover operating and capital costs.

Judicious fee increases can help agencies and programs become more self-sufficient – and they are sometimes the only alternative to raising taxes or cutting core functions.

Of course, every dollar that is saved is a dollar of revenue that doesn’t have to be found.

The Cost of Government Commission’s annual report was referred to committee at last Tuesday’s council meeting. The report reminds the mayor and council of “the alarming trajectory of county spending in lease rents,” which the commission had also mentioned in its prior report.

The commission reiterated the importance of “the building of county assets where feasible” and negotiating “reasonable lease rents.” To achieve long-term savings, we should consider this advice.

It may be better to build than rent. As I often say, if you rent, at the end you have boxes of receipts and no assets.

In addition, the commission has for consecutive years urged the executive and legislative branches to invest in information technology “to attain future savings and efficiencies leading to improved service to the public.”

The budget committee is scheduled to be in session Monday through Friday, with daily meetings at 9 a.m.

I’m presiding over a public hearing on real property tax rates on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers. Testimony will also be accepted at district offices in Hana, Lanai and Molokai, and may be emailed to county.clerk@mauicounty.us.

If you haven’t had your say on the budget yet, this week is your chance. And even if you’re already testified, you’re welcome to do so again if you have new suggestions, or want to reiterate earlier testimony.

A hui hou.

* Gladys Baisa is chairwoman of the Maui County Council and holds the council’s Pukalani-Kula-Ulupalakua area residency seat. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters.