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COVID-19 funding, tax cuts in mayor’s budget

$869.8M proposal reduces homeowner taxes, keeps utility rates same

A new county budget forged in the middle of a public health and financial crisis calls for funding to fight the coronavirus and trims homeowner taxes to help struggling residents.

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino unveiled an $869.8 million budget on Wednesday, and while it’s a 5.6 percent increase over the current $823.5 million budget, Victorino said the county’s smart fiscal moves in past years paved the way for the latest proposal.

“We have consistently put monies away for the rainy day and spent the taxpayer dollars wisely to meet current and future needs,” he said during a news conference on Wednesday afternoon. “I’m here to say Maui County is poised to fight the battle against COVID-19 and overcome the devastating path it has created, and we can still keep an eye on the future.”

The mayor’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021, which runs from July 1 to June 30, 2021, includes $704.2 million in operations and $165.6 million for capital improvement projects. The county also expects to get about $20 million in federal funds to help with projects, Budget Director Michele Yoshimura said.

The proposal also sets aside $10 million in countywide costs to help eliminate COVID-19, and $3.8 million to the county’s emergency fund. Victorino said this is in addition to the $4 million that he asked for in the current budget and the $2 million he requested to create a worker relief program that would help residents meet basic financial needs.

One of the primary changes geared toward resident relief during the coronavirus crisis includes decreasing property tax rates, though the county is expected to bring in more revenue due to rising assessments. This will be the first time the county will use the new tiered system approved by the Maui County Council in November. With the new system, owner-occupied will replace the homeowner category (currently $2.90), while non-owner-occupied will replace residential ($5.60) and charge more for higher-value homes. And, the short-term rental category will be tiered.

The current and proposed rates are as follows:

• Owner-Occupied. $2.61.

• Non-Owner-Occupied. $5.60 for homes valued under $800,000; $6.20 for homes $800,001 to $1,500,000 and $6.50 for homes over $1,500,000.

• Apartment. $6.31, $5.55.

• Commercial. $7.39, $6.29.

• Industrial. $7.48, $7.11.

• Agricultural. $5.94, $5.94.

• Conservation. $6.43, $6.43.

• Hotel and resort. $11, $9.37.

• Timeshare. $14.40, $14.40.

• Short-term rental. $10.75 for homes under $900,000; $11 for homes over $900,000.

• Commercial residential. $4.60, $4.60.

Residents also would not see any rate increases for water, sewer, refuse collection, landfill tipping fees or other county services under the proposed budget.

While rates are staying the same and most taxes are being cut, Yoshimura said that rising property assessment values and the new tiered system will help the county collect more revenue — nearly $376 million in property taxes as compared to the $358.5 million projected for this fiscal year, according to budget documents. The 2021 budget would also be boosted by nearly $50 million in general fund carryover/savings, compared to about $23 million this fiscal year.

Also in the mayor’s proposal is funding for housing, including $18.7 million to the Affordable Housing Fund, $3 million for the First Time Home Buyers program and funding for Waiale land acquisition for affordable housing.

Projects in the fiscal 2021 budget include $24 million for parks facilities, including renovations for War Memorial Gym; reconstruction of the Hana Park tennis and basketball courts; improvements of the Molokai, Lanai and Waiakoa gyms; and renovations to the Lahaina Civic Center, Paia Community Center and Velma McWayne Santos Community Center.

Victorino also is asking for $43 million in road improvements, $47 million in sewer improvements, $9 million in sanitation improvements and $21 million in water system improvements. Projects would include maintenance of the Wailuku Water Co. system, expansion of the Molokai Landfill, expansion of the West Maui recycled water system, the Waiale Road extension and other projects.

The mayor is also proposing $2 million to create climate action plans in each county department.

The budget process usually involves months of late night meetings in Council Chambers, hours of public testimony and budget hearings in each community of the county. However, this year’s process will be much more challenging as elected officials work remotely and urge residents to stay home.

Council Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, who chairs the Economic Development and Budget Committee, said that she would work with council Chairwoman Alice Lee to protect public health while allowing people to weigh in on the budget.

“We made the tough call two weeks ago that we would begin the legislative branch transitioning to work remotely and conduct all fiscal year 2021 budget deliberations via videoconferencing,” Rawlins-Fernandez said in a news release.

Committee meetings on the budget will start Monday and continue through April. All meetings will be live on Akaku Channel 53 and mauicounty.us. Residents can submit written testimony to edb.committee @mauicounty.us or provide oral testimony by connecting to BlueJeans.com/597785199 or calling (408) 317-9253 and entering meeting code 597 785 199, subject to change.

“These are unprecedented times for everyone in our community, but we will adapt in order to fulfill all obligations,” Rawlins-Fernandez said. “We ask that the public please be patient with these new remote procedures and stay informed about how to participate through our online resource updates.”

For more information, visit mauicounty.us.

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

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