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Hokama pares mayor’s budget by $33 million

County Council budget chairman Riki Hokama released his proposed county budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 on Monday, taking a knife to Mayor Alan Arakawa’s proposal to the tune of $33 million.

Hokama’s $787 million proposed capital improvement and operating budget includes a property tax revenue increase of about 5 percent, compared to Arakawa’s 6.2 percent increase for his $820 million proposal for July 1 to June 30, 2019.

The mayor’s budget proposal is 16.3 percent higher than the council-adopted current year budget of $705 million. Hokama’s proposal still is an 11.6 percent hike.

“I see major concerns facing the county,” he told his fellow council members at Monday’s committee meeting. “Supporting economic development, controlling rising personnel costs and improving infrastructure are hallmarks of your chair’s budget proposal with the caveat — within our means to pay.

“My proposal not only recognizes the needs in our community today, I believe it also lays the foundation for our future.”

The budget chairman’s plan will be the starting point as the committee forges a budget that the council must pass by June 10, or the mayor’s plan takes effect.

Most of the mayor’s proposed fee increases were retained in Hokama’s budget, including the proposed 3 percent hike to residential sewer fees, the $5 per month hike to $32 for residential trash collection and increasing the landfill commercial tipping fees $7 per ton to $97.

Hokama also added some fees, including $20 across the board for permits to use county stadiums, gyms and community centers and a $250 annual “Highway Improvement Fee” for electric and hybrid vehicles, which don’t pay or pay less gas taxes that the county uses for road improvements and repairs.

“The cost of services continues to increase, and the county must consider new and innovative ways to fund operations while limiting tax increases,” Hokama told the committee in his introductory remarks about the budget.

The budget chairman said Friday that he had nixed the mayor’s proposed tiered scheme for property taxes designed to increase income from second homes and investment properties.

“While I remain open to modifications of the property tax structure, such changes take time to implement,” he said Monday. “It is for this reason I will not support the mayor’s tiered property tax rate structure at this time.”

The measure will be referred for review by his budget committee for possible consideration in the next fiscal year budget, he said.

His proposed property tax rate structure follows with proposed and current rates per $1,000 of assessed value:

• Homeowner, $2.85, $2.86.

• Commercialized residential, $4.55, $4.56.

• Residential, $5.52, $5.54.

• Agricultural, $6, $6.01.

• Apartment, $6.31, $6.32.

• Conservation, $6.35, $6.37.

• Commercial, $7.25, $7.28.

• Industrial, $7.45, $7.49.

• Short-term rental, $9.28, $9.28.

• Hotel and resort, $9.37, $9.37.

• Time share, $15.41, $15.43.

His budget takes the ax to the Maui Visitors & Convention Bureau, trimming its budget from $4.2 million as proposed by the mayor to $3.5 million; the $500,000 for the War Memorial Gym improvements; and the $2.75 million for improvements to the starter booth and restaurant at the Waiehu Municipal Golf Course.

Hokama explained that the parks department was awaiting an assessment of the War Memorial Gym and wanted to see the report before allocating the funds. On the golf course, he indicated that it was premature to invest in the repairs and renovations while the golf course revamps its greens that will keep nine holes closed for three months.

He said the mayor’s budget did not adequately account for the time needed for the greens replacement project and the lost revenue, which he estimated at $560,000. That shortfall will be made up with a general fund allocation, he said.

Neither he nor the mayor proposed fee hikes for golfers.

While affordable housing remains “a critical need,” Hokama said funding was tempered by a lack of “well thought-out plans.”

“Without a comprehensive plan on how we will attack the affordable housing crisis, I feel that at this time it is unwise to commit additional resources,” he said.

He noted that much of the mayor’s housing proposals were in the form of bonds, which the administration can seek during the fiscal year. “But the way it is now, your chair is not going to place money based on vague and general narrative comments,” he said.

In other highlights of Hokama’s budget, he:

• Nixed the mayor’s $2.7 million proposal to set up a lifeguard station at Puu Kekaa or Black Rock in Kaanapali with four ocean safety officers. He referenced issues working with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and said that the Kaanapali operators could set up and hire lifeguards on their own.

• Called for setting up the Maui Interscholastic League Fund to help athletes with travel costs. Fees collected from Hawaii high school athletic events would be put into the fund with travel grants awarded “to support our young athletes,” he said.

• Is seeking an audit of the Finance Department “to ensure compliance with county policies and procedures.” Hokama said he became convinced of the need for the audit following discussions with the department and an audit of procurement card, or pCard, use. The audit found that former Finance Director Danny Agsalog used a pCard for personal purchases. While he did reimburse the county, county policy prohibits the personal use of pCards.

• Added $200,000 to the budget to aid employees affected by the closure of Micogen Seeds on Molokai.

• Added $750,000 for coqui frog eradication.

• Added $245,000 for septic tank improvements for Helene Hall in Hana.

• Added $1 million for sidewalks on Old Haleakala Highway from Makawao Avenue to Pukalani Street.

• Added $450,000 for Holomua Road improvements.

Hokama said he pared $10 million off the mayor’s operating budget to $595 million and $23 million off the mayor’s capital improvement budget to $192 million.

The council budget committee will begin taking up the budget at 9 a.m. today in Council Chambers.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

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