WAILUKU - At least two Maui County Council members said Tuesday that they intend to seek small increases in the county's current property tax rates to provide more funds for nonprofit organizations and to upgrade needed county services and programs.
The comments by council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa and Council Member Mike Victorino came a day after council Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Mike White introduced a proposed budget that held the line on property tax rates and trimmed Mayor Alan Arakawa's budget proposal by $23 million to $551 million - which is $1 million more than the current fiscal-year budget.
White's plan maintained current levels of funding for nonprofit organizations and eliminated proposed expansion positions in the mayor's budget. While the committee chairman called for keeping current property tax levels, he said he would be open to tax rate increases if members wanted to put back funding for staff or programs.
During a recess in the committee meeting Tuesday, Baisa told The Maui News that White's proposed budget was "too Draconian."
She took issue with White's funding levels for nonprofit organizations.
Baisa's position was supported by more than a half-dozen nonprofit officials who testified before the committee Tuesday morning. They were seeking increases in their funding levels to keep pace with rising costs of utilities, insurance and medical benefits. They said they have endured cuts in recent years from various government agencies.
Several testifiers said that they have done everything they can to raise funds on their own through grants and fundraising and have even turned to furloughs and layoffs of staff to balance their budgets.
Baisa said a "nominal raise" in property taxes was needed to assist those nonprofit organizations as well as to assist county programs and departments that have made valid cases for more funding.
During the meeting, Baisa sought to keep some proposed new staff positions in the budget.
Information Technology Services officials have come to the council year after year, making their case for more funding - and they deserve it, said Baisa. The program is seeking four new analyst positions, which White has trimmed from his budget proposal.
White suggested offsetting the new positions by eliminating vacant positions in other departments.
During a recess, Victorino told The Maui News that he would like to put back into White's budget around $7 to $8 million for nonprofit groups and departments and services that desperately need upgrades.
"We understand it costs money," he said.
Like Baisa, Victorino said there has got to be a "small tax increase" if councilors want to put more money back into the budget.
In contrast to White's plan, Arakawa's proposal seeks to raise property taxes from 4.8 percent for the apartment classification to 13 percent for those in the improved residential classification. Arakawa did not seek a rate hike in the homeowner category, noting that the classification saw its average homeowner tax bill rise by 24 percent in the current fiscal year.
Residents in the homeowner category have carried substantially less of the burden than those in other categories and those in the homeowner category generally use the majority of county services, White countered.
He also said that even with no property tax rate increases the county still will see real property tax revenues increase by $6 million because real property tax assessments have gone up. Under Arakawa's proposal, tax revenues would rise $26 million.
Through late Tuesday afternoon, the committee continued to do a line-by-line review of the budget, noting where they had a consensus on budget items and where they needed to revisit and discuss.
A couple of hours into the review, committee Vice Chairman Riki Hokama suggested that the committee vote to see if there was a consensus among the members for a property tax increase. If there was no majority support for rate hikes, then there would be no money for additional staff or programs.
Hokama added that if there wasn't consensus on a tax increase, then he was ready to vote on the budget Tuesday.
White said he would wait until today to start taking votes on portions of the budget.
The committee this week is working to come up with a version of the budget for fiscal 2014-15 that begins July 1. The committee has set an internal deadline of Friday and has reserved Saturday if needed to finish its version of the budget. The council has a June 10 deadline to pass a budget or the mayor's budget will take effect.
Deliberations continue today at 9 a.m. in the Council Chambers, where county departments are expected to make their final appearances before the committee to answer questions from the members.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.