WAILUKU - The Maui County Council on Monday unanimously overrode Mayor Alan Arakawa's eight line-item vetoes in the county budget, which restores several capital improvement projects including the South Maui gym and the new Kahului Community Center but apparently will reduce landfill and refuse services.
The $604 million county budget for fiscal 2014-15 takes effect July 1. The override returns the following projects to the budget: the new Kahului Community Center; Molokai and Upcountry water capacity projects; Kula Agricultural Park expansion; the South Maui Community Park, which includes a new gym; and county mainline water and infrastructure improvements.
Arakawa said Sunday in a Viewpoint in The Maui News that while he supports many of the projects, they were not included in the bond authorization bill, making the projects part of an "inappropriate budgeting process." For the Kahului Community Center, he said that the project does not exist yet, making it premature to include in the budget.
Had concerns about items
Not too early to fund project
The mayor also objected to personnel and expenditure restrictions on the solid waste management fund, which he said will force the county to shorten hours of operation at county landfills and eliminate residential trash pickups on county holidays.
Maui County Communications Director Rod Antone confirmed Monday that because of the override there will be a reduction in landfill and refuse services. In a news release late last week, the Department of Environmental Management laid out the reductions, which included closing all landfills for holidays and shortening operating hours between one and one-and-a-half hours at landfills countywide.
During Monday's special meeting, council Budget and Finance Chairman Mike White questioned the need to cut landfill hours and trash pickup services.
"Solid waste services, if managed properly, should not be impacted by any of the budget provisions or appropriations. The (Department of Environmental Management) was given 99.1 percent of the amount included in the mayor's proposed budget, including an additional $337,000 more for landfill operations for this coming fiscal year," White said.
"Therefore, to characterize that landfill hours will be cut because of the council's actions is puzzling at best," he said.
Council Member Elle Cochran, who chairs the council's Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee, was concerned by Arakawa's veto, saying that she is always accessible to the department and tries to fulfill its needs. For example, she said, the council gave the department what it requested for equipment.
"That was exactly what was given to us," Cochran said of what was appropriated in the budget.
She later added about the veto: "I felt left in the dark, not kept in the loop so to speak."
White, who made the motion to override Arakawa's entire line-item veto package, went down a list of responses to Arakawa's vetoes. He called Arakawa's concerns over the bond authorization process "unfounded."
"The budget as passed by the council is balanced and will not result in a shortfall," White said.
In response to a question by Council Member Don Couch, Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffrey Ueoka told the committee that "the budget is balanced" and that there are no legal issues, despite the mayor's claim that bond funding for the specific projects was inappropriate.
White noted that withholding bond authorization has been a long-standing practice of the council, even when Arakawa served on the council.
He quoted then-Council Member Arakawa in 2001: '' 'I think the concept of allowing the exploration of projects without the actual bond float, the money to go with it, requiring the administration to come back to us so that they can explain what the projects are before the actual money is allocated is a good policy.' ''
White concurred with Arakawa's thoughts back then. Withholding bond authorization allows the project to remain as a placeholder in the budget while providing for additional oversight from the council, White said.
Another council member who took issue with Arakawa's vetoes was Don Guzman, who disagreed with the line-item veto of the new Kahului Community Center.
Arakawa said he supported the Kahului Community Center project, but vetoed the item because it was too early to fund the project. The county still doesn't have the land. Alexander & Baldwin has promised the county property for the project as part of a subdivision it plans to build, but the site has not yet been subdivided out of the larger parcel.
Guzman, a proponent of the project who produced maps and letters to back up his position, said that the land has been designated and that A&B has said in a letter that it will work with the county for a right-of-entry to the property.
Guzman, who holds the Kahului residency seat, said that the county already could be working on design and assessing the property. If funds are appropriated in the upcoming fiscal year, the project could be up and running when the land is turned over, he said.
Another hang up over the project centered around the absence of Parks Director Glenn Correa, who retired earlier this month after being on administrative leave for months, said Guzman. While the county only would say that his leave was a personnel matter, a source within the administration, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the leave with pay was related to free rounds of golf at Waiehu Municipal Golf Course and Correa's alleged knowledge of the situation. A criminal investigation has been turned over to the state attorney general. No arrests have been made or charges filed.
Although all nine council members voted in favor of the veto override, Couch said initially at the meeting that he didn't think he could approve overriding the entire veto package and that he had some concerns about several items.
Couch wanted to go over the items line by line, but no other members expressed interest, and his three motions failed to garner a second and failed. The three items were:
* The expansion of the Kula Agricultural Park. Couch said after the meeting that he was concerned that there are no additional water sources at the park and that there are other properties available that are not included in the expansion that do have water sources.
* Countywide water mainline and infrastructure improvements. Couch said that the council did not provide what the water director said he needed.
* The solid waste management fund. Couch said that the council restricted the size of vehicles to be used by the department; he wanted to allow the department to obtain larger vehicles if it could buy the vehicles at the same price of the smaller vehicles.
Noting he did not receive support for his motions, Couch said he decided to vote with the majority on overriding the entire veto package. He said that he saw the writing on the wall and that he supported the majority of the items in the override.
Prior to the council's vote on the override, council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa said that she was comfortable with the vote. There was nothing done behind closed doors and that the council did everything "the best" that it could.
She also called for an end to the exchange of words between the council and the administration.
"Can we pick up the marbles here and move forward?," she asked. "I want us to work together to get things done for Maui County."
County Finance Director Danny Agsalog, who is serving as acting mayor, said in a statement Monday that the administration appreciates "the council saying that they will work with us, but that is exactly what the mayor was trying to do with his line-item vetoes."
"Instead of having the administration approaching the council later and asking for a budget amendment, why not just take care of everything right here and now?" he asked. "Nevertheless, the council has spoken, and we will do our best to implement the budget as passed. We have many important projects to move forward with and are anxious to get started."
Arakawa is attending the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Dallas and Managing Director Keith Regan is representing the mayor in Japan at a Hitachi Smart Grid event.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.