Budget oversight is a top priority for County Council

CHAIR'S 3 MINUTES

Fiscal year 2018, which began on July 1, is now in full swing with oversight of the county budget remaining a top priority for the County Council.

On Tuesday, the Budget and Finance Committee continued discussions relating to an appraisal of the property and infrastructure owned by Wailuku Water Co. LLC.

The committee voted to approve funds for an appraisal to ensure proper due diligence is done before any further discussions or decisions are made on a proposed $9.5 million acquisition cost. Discussions are still preliminary, but this opportunity could assist the county in securing infrastructure to ensure reliable delivery of water to residents.

The potential acquisition is only for infrastructure and land assets. Water is a public trust and its allocation is governed by state Commission on Water Resources Management. Therefore, the acquisition would not give the county a greater allocation of any water rights. However, the infrastructure benefits must be thoroughly discussed by the council. 

At the Sept. 8 council meeting, cost items for Bargaining Unit 1, represented by United Public Workers, was referred to the budget committee for further review. The proposed contract is effective through 2021 and must be approved by the state Legislature and each county council. The agreement includes one-time lump sum payments and a 3.2 percent, 3.45 percent and 2 percent increase across the board over the four-year contract period.

Every public employee union contract was up for renegotiation this year. Contracts with the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association and Hawaii Governmental Employees Association have been settled, and the last outstanding contract is with the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers.

Monitoring the outcomes of collective bargaining agreements is critical because it is the largest expense to operate the county. Wage increases automatically increase fringe benefit costs, which include retirement, overtime pay, Medicare, unemployment compensation and leave benefits.

Questions also have been raised regarding state funding of lifeguard services at the Makena Beach State Recreation Area. This past legislative session, the Legislature allowed a provision that granted limited liability protection to lifeguards to expire on June 30. In the past, the county was contracted by the state to provide lifeguard services, but this has been in limbo.

An agreement has not yet been signed between the county and the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the lack of an agreement has put the county in a precarious situation.

Recently, the DLNR assured the county that it would reimburse the costs for these services, but to be put in this situation, with a greater burden being placed on the counties and its employees, is very disappointing. 

The Legislature must act to reinstate the lifeguards limited liability protection in the upcoming session so these public employees can do their job without the fear of frivolous lawsuits. Both the Parks, Recreation, Energy and Legal Affairs and the Budget and Finance committees have pending matters on this topic to further discuss in detail.

In other matters, the Policy, Economic Development and Agriculture Committee continues to work on establishing qualifications for directors appointed by the mayor.

The effort is pursuant to a charter amendment approved in the 2016 general election, which now allows the council to establish director qualifications. The committee will work to develop qualifications to ensure highly qualified individuals with the appropriate skill sets are appointed to lead county departments.

Qualified department heads will ensure that the county is running in the most efficient and effective manner that best serves the people of Maui County.

* Mike White is chairman of the Maui County Council. He holds the council seat for the Paia-Haiku-Makawao residency area. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

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