Impacts of Solid Waste Division cuts, service reductions are explained
As the director of the Department of Environmental Management and the acting Solid Waste Division chief, we would like to provide clarification in regards to the challenges facing solid waste management on Maui and how recent budget decisions have affected our community and forced upcoming reductions in landfill and refuse collection services.
To clarify recent statements, the mayor’s Solid Waste Division budget submitted to the County Council did not cut any recycling, landfill or refuse collection services. We identified the minimum resources to reach sustainability and compliance and maintain all current programs.
We all have priorities, and when budgets are cut priorities come into play. For solid waste management, they are ranked as follows:
1. Public and environmental safety.
2. Regulatory compliance.
3. Sustainable resource management (budget, staffing and infrastructure).
4. Nonregulatory services such as landfill diversion, recycling and community service expansions.
Our budget and five-year plan submitted to council met these priorities and required additional resources. Noncompliance has cost taxpayers more than $4.5 million in fines and violations since 2006. We currently lack the staff to address all compliance, safety, engineering and operations issues and more than 40 permits related to the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and solid waste. Violations can be up to $25,000 per day, per violation.
Several presentations to the council during budget time explained these needs and priorities. Ultimately, however, we were denied four additional staff members needed to address compliance and employee safety, with the cost for these positions being less than amounts paid out due to fines and violations.
The council has stated that we should have the ability to continue all services “as we have done in the past.” This is agreed, however continuing as we have done in the past has cost taxpayers more than $560,000 per year in noncompliance and simply does not meet our goals from an environmental or regulatory perspective. Status quo shouldn’t be our goal.
The council’s final budget placed a priority on recycling by restricting funding solely for those services and not to be used for compliance and safety. Without the compliance-related positions, however, the division has no choice but to reduce landfill hours and refuse collections in attempt to address compliance.
The council has mentioned that it is “responding to the community wishes” to maintain recycling, and yes, this does remain important. However, it is not as crucial as environmental compliance, and with a reduced budget should not be our top priority. Our final budget maintains recycling, but limits staffing to address compliance and safety. This approach may continue to be a costly one.
Recent comments stating the county was provided $337,000 more for landfill operations are somewhat misleading. This number includes union contract negotiations as well as residential refuse trucks, neither of which actually increased landfill resources. The actual landfill fiscal year 2015 budget was in fact reduced by more than $400,000 from fiscal year 2014.
The mayor’s veto on the budget was a last resort to attempt to shore up minimum resources for the Solid Waste Division. The council has since overridden the veto and has forced difficult community service cuts to be made.
Ultimately, differences in prioritization are always a challenge between the mayor’s budget and the council’s final revisions. The county apologizes for the reductions in landfill hours and refuse collection service on holidays starting Aug. 1. However, these are our only remaining options, as described above, and in the best interest of the environment and all of us as taxpayers. We will continue to strive to provide clear solid waste goals and justifications to our Maui community and County Council to work toward a mutually agreed upon direction moving forward.
(For more information, you may refer to the county website at www.co.maui.hi.us with links to documents provided throughout the budget process, including position justifications, council presentations, priorities, regulatory history, five-year plans and more. These documents describe our overall plan for the community, taxpayers and environment.)
* Kyle Ginoza is director of the Department of Environmental Management. Michael Ratte is the acting Solid Waste Division chief.