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Panel looks to roll back park facility fees

Complaints of increase cost, logistics cited

A Maui County Council committee today will review a recently passed $20 across-the-board fee hike for use of county parks facilities amid complaints from the public and the need to close parks permits offices for a week to implement the change manually.

A proposed budget amendment by Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa, which would roll back the increase for use of parks facilities in the budget passed by the council on May 29, will be heard in the Budget and Finance Committee in Council Chambers at 9 a.m.

The County Charter limits budget amendments to the mayor — and not the council — so councilors had to ask the mayor to offer the fee adjustment. The proposal to hike the fees came from the council and not from the mayor.

The $20 fee hike was supposed to go into effect July 1 but has not because of logistical difficulties by the parks department in implementing the fee hike. In addition, members of the public, including those who conduct community classes at gyms and community centers, complained about the increased cost.

The fee to hold a community class at a county gym without air conditioning went from $4 to $24, or six times more than the previous fee. The fee to hold a community class at a small community center that can only accommodate up to 100 people rose from $2 to $22, or 11 times its previous cost.

For general use of a community center with air conditioning with a capacity of more than 500, the charge went from $120 to $140, or about a 17 percent increase.

On July 2, Arakawa sent a letter to the County Council with an attached bill on the changes. The letter said that a “number of council members” have contacted the parks department and county administration about changing the price structure.

“The council realized their mistake right away. We were more than happy to help to fix it,” county spokesman Rod Antone said.

Council Member Elle Cochran sent letters in June to Budget Director Sandy Baz and to Arakawa to help fix the problem. In those letters, Cochran said that she received complaints regarding the hefty increases for those conducting community classes.

While examining the issue, her office found “that the increase that was adopted to permits across the board may have been done in haste.” Cochran said that had the specifics of the proposal been brought up during budget deliberations, she would not have adopted the increase.

“Due to time constraints and a large agenda, I believe this was a detail that was unfortunately overlooked,” she wrote.

Cochran is worried about fee hikes impacting hula halau and “other culture perpetuating classes” as well as those classes involving youth and senior citizens. She said classes could be lost because of the increases.In a response letter, Arakawa complained that the council introduced the measure without asking the administration or the community about the potential negative impacts.

Budget and Finance Chairman Riki Hokama, who called for the fee increases, and council Chairman Mike White could not be reached for comment.

The mayor’s fee revision calls for a 25 percent increase, rather than the flat $20.

Under the administration’s proposals, those who hold community classes at gyms without air conditioning will see charges go down from $24 to $5, or $1 more than last year.

Those who hold community classes in a community center with a capacity up to 100 and without air conditioning will see their rates drop from $22 to $3. They previously paid $2.

Going to a percentage, rather than a flat fee, will help the conversion, said Antone. The $20-fee plan would have required changes be made manually.

On Monday, Cochran said she was pleased to see the amendment scheduled.

“Although I had suggested rolling the fee back to flat, this proposal will result in a $1 per class increase, which is still much more reasonable than the fiscal year 2019 adopted 1,000 percent increase,” she said.

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