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Waiehu golf course survives battle of competing budgets

Mayor signs council’s version even though it fails to increase funds for affordable housing, two fire battalion chiefs

Alan Arakawa

Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa on Thursday signed into law a $705.2 million county budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 that keeps the Waiehu Municipal Golf Course open and imposes a new $3 per vehicle tipping fee for residential dumping at the Central Maui Landfill.

The budget, which runs through June 30, 2018, and was approved by the County Council on Tuesday, includes $562.7 million for the day-to-day operations of county government and $142.5 million for construction projects. It is 6.7 percent, or $45.7 million, more than the current year $659.5 million budget approved last spring but $15 million less than Arakawa’s $720.3 million spending plan offered up in March.

In a news release Thursday announcing the signing of the budget, Arakawa noted that the difference between the administration’s proposed budget and the one approved by the council is “a mere 2 percent,” so he is confident “that we are staying the course on our spending priorities.”

The mayor lauded the leanness of the budget, which continues “to place an emphasis on the key themes of my administration: public health and safety, public facilities and infrastructure, environmental management and protection, transportation and the modernization of processes.”

But Arakawa was disappointed that the council failed to increase funding for affordable rental housing and to approve two fire battalion chief positions.

An automated county refuse truck picks up trash in South Maui in March. Mayor Alan Arakawa signed into law a budget that will increase monthly trash fees for Maui and Molokai from $24 to $27 and from $12 to $14 on Lanai. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

On the affordable rental housing funding, the mayor had sought to allot 3 percent of property tax revenues annually — or about $9.1 million — for the affordable housing fund, up from the current 2 percent, or $6 million, county Communications Director Rod Antone explained Thursday.

Council Chairman Mike White said Thursday that the council did not support increasing the affordable housing fund allotment without a solid plan. Additional funding will be considered once an affordable housing policy and implementation analysis, which was requested by the community during budget hearings, are completed, he said.

The council approved the battalion chief positions but did not attach any funding. White said those positions will be re-evaluated once the council-mandated audit of the Fire Department is completed.

Not mentioned by the mayor was his call to close the Waiehu Municipal Golf Course, citing $16.3 million in losses in the past decade. The council chose to continue funding the 87-year-old public golf course, which received support in testimony through the budget process.

Riki Hokama, council budget committee chairman, called Waiehu a “gem” and pointed out that the county spends millions of dollars maintaining other county facilities, such as swimming pools and playing fields.

There will be fee increases and efforts to modernize operations, including booking tee times online and accepting credit card payments. Regular rates will rise to $15 per round from $13 on weekdays and $22 instead of $18 on weekends and holidays. The cost to play golf for retirees, out-of-state visitors and students also will rise.

Overall, Arakawa said, there was “more to be thankful for than upset about” in the budget. He thanked council members for directing spending to repair and maintain parks, gyms and police facilities and to replace old vehicles, including a fire ladder truck for South Maui, which is in constant need of repairs.

The budget includes $6.7 million for improvements to county park facilities and $34.8 million for water and wastewater infrastructure.

The mayor also was pleased that the budget included $25 million for the new county service center in the Maui Business Park in Kahului, which will house the Division of Motor Vehicles and Licensing, Real Property Tax Division and the Department of Housing and Human Concerns.

White said that “as costs continue to rise, the county must tighten our belts and live within our means.”

“Fiscal responsibility is key to maintaining a strong financial position, and I look forward to working with the administration in the new fiscal year,” White said.

In May, the council approved property tax hikes in all categories for the upcoming fiscal year, which is expected to generate $303.2 million. The homeowner rate per $1,000 of assessed value will be $2.86, up from $2.70; residential, $5.54, from $5.30; commercial, $7.28 from $6.60; agricultural, $6.01 from $5.66; hotel and resort, $9.37 from $8.71; and time share, $15.43 from $14.31.

The budget included tax, rate and fee hikes, which take effect July 1. They include:

• Increases in monthly trash fees on Maui and Molokai from $24 to $27 and from $12 to $14 on Lanai.

• Increases in commercial tipping fees from $81 per ton to $90.

• Hikes in sewer fees from $29.20 to $30.08 per month for single-family and duplex dwellings.

Other budget highlights include:

• $5.2 million for road resurfacing projects.

• $2.2 million for homelessness and affordable housing programs.

• $4.6 million for watershed management, including eradication of coqui frogs, miconia and other invasive species.

• $2.4 million for agricultural programs and the acquisition of land to expand the Kula Agricultural Park and to create an agricultural park on Lanai.

• $1.7 million for improvements to the War Memorial Gym.

Fees paid by surf schools, kayak rental operators and windsurfing instructors to conduct business in county beach parks were kept at $1,000 a year.

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

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