Council passes $705.2M budget on first reading

Final approval set for May 30

The Maui County Council passed on first reading Friday an approximately $705.2 million fiscal 2018 budget.

The final vote was 8-0, with Council Member Stacy Crivello absent and excused for the vote.

As recommended by the council’s Budget and Finance Committee, the full council is funding the Waiehu Municipal Golf Course after Mayor Alan Arakawa mulled its closure, citing a loss of $16.3 million in the past decade.

The council’s budget is about $15 million leaner than Arakawa’s proposed spending plan of $720.3 million, but it’s around $45.7 million more than the current fiscal year budget of $659.5 million.

The budget’s final reading is scheduled for May 30. If approved, it will be forwarded to Arakawa’s desk. The budget will take effect July 1.

During its daylong meeting, the council approved higher trash collection fees and some increased sewer fees.

Council Member Elle Cochran brought nine amendments to the floor. Those included one to return commercial ocean recreational activity fees to current levels.

The fees are paid by businesses such as surf schools, kayak rental operators and windsurfing instructors to conduct business at county beach parks. The permit fee was set to go from $1,000 annually per permit to $200 a month, or $2,400 annually. But Cochran’s amendment was approved, keeping rates unchanged. Permit fees go into a separate account, not the county’s general fund.

The other Cochran amendment that passed involved “revenue neutral” changes in which money is already in the budget for recycling and cleanup. Cochran’s amendment would dedicate around $57,000 for a recycling drop box along Lahainaluna Road to be run by Lahaina International Market six days a week. Another $7,500 would go to Malama Maui Nui to do cleanups in Kaupo and Kanaio.

Other council members also proposed amendments, some were housekeeping and others did not affect budget totals.

“Your committee worked hard . . . to reduce the mayor’s originally proposed budget, here we are still at $705.2 million,” said Riki Hokama, chairman of the council’s Budget and Finance Committee, early on in the meeting.

He added that not everything that people asked for made it into the budget, but it is a budget with community input.

Hokama said that the community’s No. 1 priority was to take care of county roads, and last on the public’s list was funding nonprofit organizations, although the budget also funds nonprofits.

Around $5.2 million is in the budget for road resurfacing. There’s also $2.5 million for environmental protection, which includes the eradication of coqui frogs, miconia and other invasive plants and animals.

What added to the committee’s challenges were items at the state Legislature this year that Hokama said could further the tax burden on the counties, such as the continued “inappropriate share” of the hotel tax given to the counties and the sunset of liability protections for county lifeguards at state beach parks.

The county will receive $21.2 million in hotel room tax revenue for fiscal 2018. That is 22.8 percent of the $93 million set aside for all four counties. County officials have long argued for more of the hotel room tax revenue because the number of visitors are increasing as well as costs for the county.

During Friday’s meeting, 13 of 29 testifiers spoke out against the commercial ocean recreation activity permit fee increase, saying that the permits are getting too costly. Others said businesses cannot continue to pass along higher costs to customers because many visitors have complained that Maui has become too expensive and they want to go elsewhere to enjoy ocean activities. Some activity owners said they hold multiple permits because they need to access several county beach parks for various reasons, including unsafe weather conditions.

Jeff King of Big Kahuna Adventures Maui, which holds two permits to conduct surfing and kayak lessons at Kalama Park, said that income for his kayak lessons may be less than what the new fees will cost per month.

“This fee increase is a game-changer. I probably have to give up the kayak (permit),” he said. “I don’t want to give up the permit, I need all of them.”

His business keeps an eye out for all beachgoers, not just those not taking lessons with his business.

“We should be rewarded from the county; we shouldn’t be fined,” he said.

Tim Means, general manager of Lahaina Divers, said that he and others testifying Friday were a “hui” of commercial permit holders. They have concerns, including that no other fee in the budget was being raised as high as commercial ocean recreation permits.

He and others remain concerned that the permit fees go into a special fund, in which $500,000 was unused.

Some council members said that the issue needed further study.

Also in the budget, monthly trash fees for Maui and Molokai would rise from $24 to $27 and from $12 to $14 on Lanai. There would be a $3-per-vehicle fee for residential trash dumping at the Central Maui Landfill. Commercial tipping fees would rise from $81 to $90 per ton.

While water fees remained unchanged, sewer fees increase from $29.20 to $30.08 per month for single-family and duplex dwellings.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.


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