Council gives final approval to fiscal 2019 county budget

Approved budget would be $53M more than current fiscal year

The Maui County Council approved a $758.3 million county budget for fiscal 2019 on Tuesday.

The budget is around $62 million less than Mayor Alan Arakawa’s proposed budget of $820 million. It is also $53.1 million higher than this year’s council-approved budget of $705.2 million.

The full council approved its version of the budget on second and final reading in Council Chambers by an 8-0 vote, with Council Member Kelly King excused.

By law, the council has until June 10 to take action on the budget; otherwise the mayor’s proposal becomes law.

The new fiscal year begins July 1.

The mayor could sign off on the budget on Friday, said County Communications Director Rod Antone.

The budget includes trash and sewer fee increases, partial funding of around $44 million for the Wailuku civic complex, $5.9 million for the Kihei Wastewater Reclamation Facility grit system replacement, and the establishment of a Maui Interscholastic League Fees Fund to help high school athletes with travel costs. In a separate resolution passed earlier this month, the council approved property tax rates, which are the same or slightly lower than rates this fiscal year.

There were no budget amendments, so the spending plan approved Tuesday doesn’t differ from the one council members passed on first reading May 18.

Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Riki Hokama said that, with the package of 12 bills that make up the budget, “within it, there is a lot of things; there is a lot of things that is not in it. Your committee worked very diligently, it was on a very short time frame.”

Arakawa submitted his budget to the council on March 23.

Hokama noted that the “big driver of increased costs” to the county is a collective bargaining agreement that the “committee worked diligently on.”

“Yes, we are making continued investment under capital improvements. You’ve heard of the civic complex. It is a major project, but we have not forgotten investments in our water requirements, sewer requirements, public safety requirements. You will see throughout this budget we have grown it . . . with no doubt we have grown this budget, but I would say if you take into account how we’ve approached it from our borrowing, from a cash standpoint you will see that it is still something I can support from a financial feasibility component. It will not put a damper on the county to continue to operate and provide the type services that our community has always been proud of seeing from the county.”

For example, there is $6.26 million for countywide road resurfacing and pavement preservation projects and $12.5 million for source, transmission and storage expansion for the Upcountry water system.

In his budget proposal, Arakawa suggested a tiered property tax rate structure, with the tiered rates affecting several property tax classifications.

Hokama dashed the plan early on this budget session, but he said Tuesday that the committee is willing to discuss it and see if it is something that the county should go forward with in fiscal 2020.

Reducing county funding for the visitor industry also has been brought up by the community, Hokama acknowledged, noting a changing of “attitude of our people.”

“We would be foolish not to be aware and recognize the changing attitude,” he said, noting that it comes about because of the success of the visitor industry.

(Some council members during budget deliberations had wanted to trim the county’s funding for the Maui County Visitor Association, which has a $4 million grant for fiscal 2019.)

Hokama added that people may feel there is not a “fair exchange” that the community receives from support of the visitor industry.

“It is responsible of us to look at other ways to support economic development growth,” he said.

Hokama noted the struggle the county has with the state over money and noted the support the county has been giving to seven different state departments through the years, whether it be the schools and university nursing programs and others.

“This county cannot continue to afford to support seven state departments if the state is going to take a continued portion of our transient accommodations tax revenue and now trying to impede us on our ability to control our destiny through real property taxation,” he said.

Prior to the council final vote on the budget, more than a handful of testifiers voiced their thanks and support of the Wailuku civic complex, which as proposed by Arakawa was seen as the largest capital improvement project in his proposed budget at $81.2 million.

But the Budget and Finance Committee cut the funding nearly in half to $44 million, noting that it would be “fiscally prudent” to fund the project in phases because it could not be completed in a single fiscal year. Critics have said the project is too large and costly.

Since fiscal 2016, $15.6 million has been appropriated for the project for planning, design and land acquisition. The civic complex would include multilevel parking, along with county office space, public conference capabilities, community reception space, an outdoor event deck, infrastructure upgrades and pedestrian connectivity. It would take the place of the Wailuku municipal parking lot.

Ed Carson, owner of Aria’s Restaurant & Catering, which will be across the street from the complex, gave his and his brother’s thanks to the council for supporting the complex.

“I believe this project will definitely invigorate Wailuku and bring some needed life back into the community,” he said.

Carson is aware his business would be impacted during construction.

“It’s going to hurt,” he said. “I think just like a shot from your doctor, it hurts at first, (but) it’s for the best ultimately,” he added.

Carol Ball, the former chairwoman of the Wailuku Redevelopment Agency, also expressed gratitude and said Wailuku can again be the business hub of Maui.

“We are going to put Wailuku on the map,” she said.

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