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Wailuku civic complex funding gets clipped

Council budget panel retains Hokama’s property tax rates; roundabout reinstated

County Council members halved money planned for the Wailuku civic complex, bringing it down from $81.2 million to $40 million, and the Maui Lani roundabout, originally cut by Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Riki Hokama, was back in the spending plan, but with conditions, including a review by a council committee.

Committee members worked into the wee hours over the weekend, and they were back at it Monday, into the evening, as they hammered out the council’s version of the county budget for fiscal 2019. The next fiscal year begins July 1.

Monday afternoon, Hokama went over the budget “numbers” with committee members, noting that he wanted to settle them because clerks needed time to post public hearings on various budget items. In the evening, panel members reviewed provisions suggested by individual council members.

The first of two readings on the council’s budget is scheduled for May 18. By law, the council has until June 10 to take action on the budget. Otherwise, Mayor Alan Arakawa’s proposed budget would become law.

The committee reached a consensus to keep Hokama’s proposed property tax rates. This would amount to a property tax revenue increase of about 5 percent. Arakawa’s proposed tiered tax system for some categories was eliminated by Hokama early on.

Next fiscal year, homeowners could pay $2.85 per $1,000 of assessed value. (The current rate is $2.86.) For the new short-term rental category, the rate could be $9.28.

In other matters, instead of reducing the budget for paratransit services by $1.3 million for fiscal 2019, as proposed by Hokama, the committee will return $850,000.

News of Hokama’s proposed cut concerned riders and Transportation Director Don Medeiros. He said the spending reduction would not fully fund a $3.5 million annual contract with service provider Maui Economic Opportunity Inc. for next fiscal year.

Also, without paratransit services, the county risks running afoul of federal rules tied to funding fixed transportation systems, like the Maui Bus, Medeiros told The Maui News.

On Monday afternoon, Medeiros said he is “cautiously optimistic that the paratransit service will be able to operate next fiscal year.”

The revised proposed budget shows that the paratransit monthly pass would be eliminated.

Medeiros said students who use paratransit would not be affected and would still have the option to buy a monthly pass at $30.

Paratransit riders would still have the option of paying $4 for a daily pass, Medeiros said.

During its deliberations over the weekend, the committee cut down the $81.2 million proposal for the Wailuku Civic Complex, a multistory parking structure and a three-story building for retail stores, county offices and special events. The proposed complex would replace the Wailuku municipal parking lot, which has 214 parking stalls, with either a four-story parking structure with 360 parking stalls or a five-story structure with 460 stalls.

Maui County Communications Director Rod Antone said that he understands that the council is looking to have the project done in phases, alluding to the reason for the reduction.

Project supporters say it could attract new businesses and add much-needed parking to Wailuku town. Critics believe the project is far too large and costly.

Hokama has said he supports the complex he believes would help bring an economic boost to a town with “tremendous historical value.”

In other matters, last week the committee put back the proposed $3.4 million Maui Lani roundabout project for the intersection of Maui Lani Parkway and Kamehameha Avenue. Hokama initially reduced it by about $1.5 million and proposed a traffic signal instead.

Funding for the roundabout would be borrowed through a municipal bond issue, which Hokama said would not be authorized until the project gets vetted in the council’s Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee and with further council review to determine that it would be the “best and safest” improvement for the community.

Hokama explained his concerns, noting that the federal government has its concerns about roundabouts. He noted that there is a need for more public education about roundabouts.

The federal government’s Department of Transportation reported that traffic flows generated by the roundabout could impact traffic flows on other nearby highways, Hokama added.

He also was concerned about zoning conditions because a traffic signal was noted in a zoning change years ago.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeff Ueoka said he didn’t believe that conditions of zoning were a restriction on the council.

The condition noted that Maui Lani would share in the cost of funding a traffic signal with the county and did not say that Maui Lani was required to construct a traffic signal.

Maui Lani will put in $610,000 for the roundabout, county officials said.

Supporters of the roundabout said studies favor roundabouts, which cost less to maintain and are touted as safer by many agencies, including the U.S. Department of Transportation. Roundabouts reduce crashes in which people are seriously hurt or killed by 78 to 82 percent, according to the Department of Transportation website.

Public Works Director David Goode said on Monday afternoon that “we want to have those discussions in committee sooner rather than later.”

Goode said if discussions happen soon and if the project is approved, then construction could begin the summer of next year, otherwise the project could be stalled further because work is set to be done when the nearby Pomaika’i Elementary School is out of session.

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

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