WAILUKU - Despite some concerns from committee members, the Maui County Council Budget and Finance Committee officially referred its proposed $559 million county budget - $15 million less than proposed by Mayor Alan Arakawa - to the full council for approval Monday afternoon.
Some members said that they still were concerned about the economy and wanted to be cautious about spending, while others said they would have preferred a smaller property tax hike for next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
The budget contains $88 million for capital improvement projects, about $3 million less than in the mayor's proposed budget, and an operating budget of about $471 million, about $12 million less than proposed by Arakawa.
The committee trimmed the mayor's budget by nearly halving his request for new positions and cutting some funding for equipment and programs, including the mayor's $1.15 million request to begin planning work on a new office building at the old Wailuku Post Office. The committee also shot down increases in permitting fees in the Planning Department.
At the same time, councilors gave a 3 percent across-the-board increase in funding over the current year to most nonprofit organizations and went along with the mayor's proposal to hike water rates 5 percent across the board.
The committee late Friday night agreed to property tax rate hikes for all categories except the residential classification, which usually includes second homes used as rentals. All other categories saw increases from 5 cents to 25 cents per $1,000 of net taxable assessed valuation.
Although he voted yes on the budget, budget committee Vice Chairman Riki Hokama said Monday that he was doing so with reservations, especially with regard to CIP projects. He still has concerns about projections for the economy, which he said still show instability, and about the proposed property tax rates, which he will bring up when the full council decides on the budget.
Hokama said he may view the committee's version of the budget from a different perspective than his colleagues, who may be happy about how they trimmed the mayor's proposal. In his view, he would consider the council's proposed budget against current operations rather than the mayor's plan.
Hokama missed committee deliberations for several days last week to attend to business involving the National Association of Counties, of which he is second vice president.
Council Member Bob Carroll missed committee budget deliberations as well. He has been away for several weeks recovering from appendicitis. Carroll returned to the Council Chambers on Monday.
Committee Chairman Mike White said that he had hoped for less in expenditures and less in rate hikes in the committee's budget but congratulated staff and the committee for its work.
White's initial proposal to the committee - which was only $1 million more than the current budget - slashed all proposed expansion positions in the mayor's budget, kept funding for nonprofits at current levels and held property taxes flat, which shocked many committee members.
"I knew I threw you a heck of a curve in the beginning. But the end result is one we can be proud of," he said Monday afternoon as the several-month committee budget process came to an end.
The budget will need to pass two readings before the full council to be approved. The council has a June 10 deadline to pass the budget; otherwise Arakawa's budget will take effect July 1.
The first reading is scheduled for 10 a.m. May 28 in Council Chambers.
Freshman Council Member Don Guzman joked that the budget process, with long, grueling hours and occasional heated flare-ups among members, was like a "hazing" for a fraternity.
But he survived it, said the council member who holds the Kahului residency seat.
Guzman, who had been an advocate for keeping property taxes low for homeowners, added that he had wanted to keep property tax rates lower than the committee proposal of $2.87, up 12 cents per $1,000 of net taxable assessed valuation. On Friday, he passionately called for not raising homeowner tax rates too high, noting that household members in his residency district already may be having to find a second job to pay for the various increases in the cost of living.
He initially took to Council Member Mike Victorino's proposal to keep property tax increases for almost all categories equal and to only hike the amount 10 cents per $1,000. The proposal failed.
Council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa on Monday also reflected on how she was shocked by White's initial proposal, saying he put them in a "wow" position last week.
"We got through it," she said noting the council also put back some items that were deleted from White's proposal.
"We did it at a nominal cost for the taxpayers," she added.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.