Budget panel doesn’t plan to burn midnight oil

Council committee leaders discuss plans to streamline review process

Maui County Council Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez and council Chairwoman Kelly King discuss new processes for the council’s annual review of the mayor’s proposed budget at a Maui Nonprofit Directors Association meeting Thursday at the J. Walter Cameron Center. The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo

WAILUKU — The Maui County Council leadership is proposing to streamline the budget review process to eliminate the need for late-night meetings as has been the practice in the past.

“I don’t believe that it needs to take six weeks of meetings from 9 a.m. to midnight,” said council Chairwoman Kelly King. “There are a few nonprofits that come and stay from dawn to whenever we leave. . . . It’s not fair to bring budget items into the budget at 10 o’clock at night when no one’s watching and no one is there.”

King told about 50 attendees at a Maui Nonprofit Directors Association meeting Thursday morning that she doesn’t plan to allow meetings to run more than eight hours or for more than a full day. Council members can decide if they want to continue after 5 p.m. but they will not be required to stay through the night.

King and Council Member Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, who heads the council’s Economic Development and Budget Committee, spoke to directors of Maui County nonprofit agencies Thursday morning at the J. Walter Cameron Center. The committe is set to begin work on the fiscal 2020 budget, which runs from July 1 to June 30, 2020, next week.

Mayor Michael Victorino is scheduled to release his version of the fiscal 2020 budget Monday. The council has until June 10 to pass its version of the budget, otherwise the mayor’s version automatically will become law.

The council approved a $758 million budget for the current year, trimming a $820 million budget proposed by former Mayor Alan Arakawa.

Rawlins-Fernandez, a first-time budget chairwoman and freshman council member, said Thursday that she is “very excited” to usher in a new budget process.

“The work you all do is so important and necessary for our community,” the council vice chairwoman told the audience.

Last year, Maui County nonprofits received around $30 million from county coffers.

Unlike in years past, county department officials will not be on the floor of the council answering budgetary questions from members. Instead, the council already has been hearing from departments on strategic goals for 2020 as well as budget objectives. The actual budget numbers will come when Victorino unveils his budget next week, Rawlins-Fernandez said.

Council questions to the departments will be done in writing with responses shared with the public, she added. This will streamline the process.

In its initial review of the budget, committee members will focus on five areas, she said:

• If the budget items have increased or decreased.

• If members have questions for the departments.

• Areas where cuts can be made.

• Top priorities.

• Top concerns.

A workshop on the budget approval process will be held at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in Council Chambers during the committee’s meeting.

In response to a question about whether it is better for a nonprofit to send written testimony or to show up in person, both council members said it would be better to appear in person.

The council members said the director of the nonprofit could share background and statistics and beneficiaries and clients could offer how the nonprofit group helped them, through in-person presentations to the council.

King said verbal remarks at a meeting may be more efficient because she may not have time to read all the written testimony. She did say that her office staff will let her know who submitted testimony and where they stand.

She suggested having one beneficiary speak for the nonprofit rather than dozens of testifiers sharing similar thoughts to help streamline the process. However, a larger group could appear at the meeting to show strength of support.

Spawned by discussion at the meeting, Rawlins-Fernandez said she would take up a practice done at the state Legislature, where those who submit written testimony have their positions noted out loud by the chairperson at the meeting.

Following the meeting, directors of Maui’s nonprofit groups expressed optimism with the new proposed process.

Bevanne Bowers, president of the Maui Nonprofit Directors Association and executive director of Mediation Services of Maui, said “it sounds like changes are being made.”

She supported having beneficiaries “tell their stories” about how nonprofits have helped them.

“It sounds like a streamline approach that will be more productive than those in the past, and we look forward to that effort,” Bowers said.

Last year, Mediation Services of Maui received $43,815 from the county, while relying on other subsidies as well. It provides alternative dispute resolution, facilitation and training on Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

Last year, the agency handled 500 cases, which involved around 1,500 individuals, Bowers said.

Debbie Cabebe, CEO of Maui Economic Opportunity, one of the county’s larger nonprofit organizations, said her takeaway from Thursday’s meeting was that council members recognize nonprofits as “partners.”

The council members acknowledged that nonprofits “are not begging for money” and that they are “making a valuable contribution to the community,” she said.

This currently fiscal year, MEO is receiving $10.4 million from the county, which includes funding for the paratransit service that hundreds of disabled residents use, she said.

Cabebe, who sits through the majority of the budget process, as did her predecessors, said she likely would continue to do the same this year and appreciates the hard work of council members each year.

She did like hearing that meetings may end at 5 p.m.

Those who want to testify on budget items in writing may do so at edb.committee@mauicounty.us and refer to EDB-1. Information, including a schedule on district budget meetings, may be found at mauicounty.us/2020budget/.

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