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Council overrides most of mayor’s vetoes

Members restore funding for sewer projects, shoreline plan

Maui County Council members review Mayor Michael Victorino’s line-item vetoes during a special council meeting on Tuesday. The council overrode all but three of the mayor’s vetoes. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photos

WAILUKU — The Maui County Council overrode all but three of Mayor Michael Victorino’s 12 vetoes during a special meeting on Tuesday, putting the near-final touches on an $823.5 million budget that is set to go into effect on July 1.

“We have a budget. We are done,” Council Chairwoman Kelly King said following the 7-1 vote to approve the veto overrides.

Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura was the dissenting vote, while Council Member Riki Hokama was excused.

David Raatz of the Office of Council Services said that the only remaining step is for the County Clerk to certify the ordinances. However, the mayor expressed disappointment with the process on Tuesday afternoon, saying he was still waiting on more information about the changes to the budget he proposed.

“I am disappointed in the County Council’s lack of desire to provide transparency in their decision-making,” Victorino said. “We ultimately answer to the public and taxpayers, who rely on us to responsibly execute the budget. I have always been available to the council, and I am still awaiting the information needed to implement the budget for fiscal year 2020, which begins in 11 days.”

Managing Director Sandy Baz explains that the mayor needs clarity in the budget so the departments can implement the projects correctly.

Last week, the mayor issued a dozen line-item vetoes to the council’s budget. On Tuesday, the council restored most of the items, including a $7.5 million appropriation for the Kihei-Makena sewer expansion project, $1 million to convert Upcountry cesspools and $500,000 for a countywide master plan for shoreline retreat.

Members left in place three vetoes, none of which would impact the total funding, Raatz said. They include a proviso requiring $250,000 to be used for “homeless programs that collaborate with the community,” which councilors agreed was too vague; a proviso requiring $50,000 to be used for a public transit rider fee study, which they said should be paid for by the highway fund; and a proviso requiring $50,000 be used for coqui frog eradication using the National Guard, as it was uncertain whether the agency would participate.

Concerns on Molokai

Two of the vetoes that garnered the most attention were the shoreline retreat master plan, which is supposed to start on Molokai, and the relocation of the Pukoo Fire Station on Molokai’s east end.

Victorino had vetoed funding for the master plan, saying that while he supported the idea, the plan should be carried out by “the appropriate county department” and not Council Services, which “could be seen as the council conducting an executive function.” He kept the $455,000 for the fire station relocation but vetoed a proviso “because it fails to provide clear direction on how to move forward with the project.”

Council Chairwoman Kelly King presides over the special council meeting on Tuesday.

Nearly a dozen Molokai residents spoke via telephone in support of the two items. Residents said that the community worked hard on the fire station proviso, which calls for “funding for an environmental impact statement provided that it is started with an archaeological inventory survey; a cultural impact assessment; and a range of alternatives, with an analysis of the environmental impacts of each alternative, not to include sites previously deemed unsuitable.”

“We were able to bring guys from opposite sides of the coin, and they were able to come together, compromise and find something that was good for all,” Henry Lindo Jr. said. “So I’m in support of the proviso.”

Molokai testifiers also advocated for a shoreline retreat plan.

“We are already so far behind where we need to be, especially when looking at sea level rise and retreat, and we don’t have time to just wait around and try again next year,” Mahina Poepoe said.

Nearly 60 people either signed letters of support or submitted written testimony to restore the two items.

Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, who holds the Molokai residency seat and led the budget committee, said that “the majority of Molokai’s residents live and work in areas particularly susceptible to these issues, and we cannot delay in making sure there’s a plan in place to take care of the land and our people.”

“This should not be seen as the council conducting an executive function,” Rawlins-Fernandez said of the shoreline study, pointing out there’s also $150,000 for a Housing Authority feasibility study under Council Services in the same budget bill.

As for the fire station, Rawlins-Fernandez explained that one of the potential locations contains cultural sites, and the community wants to make sure that the proper studies are done before the station is relocated.

Meanwhile, the council also restored $7.5 million to “design, plan and construct the expansion of the sewage facility in the Kihei-Makena area.” Victorino reduced the funding to $2.5 million because he said the council did not identify specific projects for the additional funds.

Council Member Alice Lee said the funding was intended to allow for expansion and alternatives to avoid the need for injection wells. She also advocated for restoring $1 million for Upcountry sewer system upgrades.

While Victorino vetoed the item because Upcountry doesn’t have a county sewer system, Lee said her intention was for the money to cover cesspool conversions, pointing to a law the state Legislature passed in 2017 that requires all cesspools to be replaced by 2050.

Sugimura, who holds the Upcountry seat, believed the county should first see what the state plans to do before spending county funds. But Lee said that “it’s better to be early than to be catching up like we always normally do.”

Members also restored a proviso that would station a security officer at Kalama Park after residents raised concerns about safety and recent attacks at the park. The mayor had wanted the position to apply to all of South Maui.

Clarifying the budget

Several of the mayor’s vetoes dealt with unclear language; Managing Director Sandy Baz explained that “the council and the community will be holding the administration accountable to implementing the budget, so we need to make sure we’re clear on what those items are.”

“What the administration has to follow is the ordinance,” Baz said. “The prior administration got into a lot of hot water because there was a lot of discussion on the council floor about the specific topic, but the actual ordinance didn’t change.”

He added that in prior budget processes, the budget chairperson produced an “Exhibit 1” document, essentially a working version of the budget that the committee used and that the mayor could review to see the changes. That wasn’t prepared this year, Baz said.

King said that both she and Rawlins-Fernandez had offered to meet with the mayor before budget sessions began, but that those meetings — which could have clarified some issues beforehand — never happened.

“If you had made us aware . . . which kinds of documents you were looking for, we could’ve gone into the budget session with that knowledge and providing that kind of information, but we had zero communication,” other than a meeting with each member to discuss their district, King said.

Rawlins-Fernandez asked Baz if the “Exhibit 1” document was required by law. Baz said it wasn’t. She then asked him if it had been submitted last year. Baz said he believed so.

“No, it wasn’t,” Rawlins-Fernandez said.

She later apologized to Baz “for misspeaking, that the Exhibit 1 was included in the committee report, it just wasn’t used during the process.” Council members from the previous term interjected that it was.

In response to concerns that the administration might not have all the information it needs to carry out the budget, Rawlins-Fernandez said that she was working with the finance director on the accounting side and that “all the information that they’re looking for is in the budget bills.” She also said that she had met with the mayor and budget director to discuss concerns about the unclear wording on some items.

“I assured the administration that it is not our intention to leave them in the lurch whatsoever, and that this council wishes to work collaboratively and cooperatively to successfully achieve the goals put forth within this adopted budget,” she said.

Following budget discussion, the council also unanimously passed on first reading a bill that would ban commercial activity at Hanakao’o Beach Park. The bill needs a second and final reading before it can head to the mayor for his signature.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.