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Council committee works to trim mayor’s $869,800,000 budget

Hearing on property tax rates tonight

Keani Rawlins-Fernandez – Budget Committee chairwoman

A Maui County Council committee is on track to trim at least $50 million from the mayor’s proposed fiscal 2021 budget, though the working budget does include raises for the Office of Council Services that council members said would bring parity with other county departments.

The council’s Economic Development and Budget Committee, which has been meeting online, is nearing the end of its budget process, which involves reviewing, making cuts and changes to Mayor Michael Victorino’s $869.8 million budget for the new fiscal year that begins July 1. The full council must still approve the budget on two readings.

According to documents updated Monday on the council’s website, the budget committee has pared county spending down to $679.1 million for operating expenses and $139.8 million for capital improvement projects. In comparison, Victorino’s spending plan released in March included $704.2 million in operations and $165.6 million for CIP. This included $10 million in countywide costs to help eliminate COVID-19 and $3.8 million to the county’s emergency fund. The committee has included those funds in its version of the budget.

Many of the cuts came from eliminating expansion and vacant positions, cutting travel expenses, cutting new equipment purchases such as vehicles and holding off on some projects. Some funding from projects has also been shifted from general funds to bonds.

A public hearing on rates for real property taxes is scheduled for 6 p.m. today. There will be no decision-making.

Oral testimony can be provided via BlueJeans videoconference or by phone. To join the meeting by phone, call (408) 740-7256 or (888) 240-2560 (toll free), and enter meeting ID 358865836 and passcode 5937. The hearing also will be broadcast on Akaku Channel 53.

More information on the range of property tax rates can be found at tinyurl.com/yasfm6cx.

Regarding the cutting of the budget, Committee Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez said in an email Tuesday evening that rather than focusing on a “targeted reduction amount,” the council and administration worked together to identify the department’s critical operational needs and capital improvement projects that could not be deferred for a year.

The committee also focused on technology and trade industries that could help provide jobs, food security and aid for small business.

Along with cuts, there are additions. After initially denying increases for top managers in Office of Council Services early last week, the committee decided late Friday night to leave a 2 percent increase in, with members saying that the top staff, who include attorneys, have done their job well for the council and should have parity with the county’s other attorneys. In February, heads of some county departments, including Corporation Counsel, received a 2 percent cost-of-living increase from the Salary Commission that was retroactive to January.

“I feel parity is needed in the salaries,” Council Member Kelly King said in voting for the increase last week.

“I think we have some high- level attorneys in OCS,” King said, adding that she wasn’t worried about losing council attorneys to Corporation Counsel.

King added that council members themselves wanted to take a pay cut to save the county money, but since their salaries are set by the Salary Commission by law, members could not cut their own pay. Council members are also set to see a 2 percent cost-of-living increase in January.

Rawlins-Fernandez said that “I think we can justify these increases” for the top Council Services staff.

She agreed with other members about not wanting to lose the “intelligent, hardworking attorneys and legislative staff to any of the (other) departments.”

Council staff has been working around the clock for the budget process, Rawlins-Fernandez added.

But Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura, who voted against the increases for the top managers along with Council Member Riki Hokama, expressed concern about raising pay during a time of crisis.

“Now 30,000 people are not working,” Sugimura said. “I’m worried about our overall expenses and our budget for our people.”

Sugimura said she has voted against staff raises and was continuing to do so.

Earlier last week, the committee also voted for increases for Council Services staff.

Rawlins-Fernandez said in an email Tuesday that council policy, which was previously established to mitigate turnover in the department and to remain competitive, directs legislative attorneys’ salaries to be tied to any increases made by the Salary Commission for the departments of Corporation Counsel and the Prosecuting Attorney.

Rawlins-Fernandez’s committee is expected to have a final vote at its Thursday meeting to recommend the budget to the full council.

The budget is expected to be up for first review by the council May 22, with a second and final reading June 5, said Supervising Legislative Attorney David Raatz.

The council has until June 10 to adopt its own version of the budget, otherwise the mayor’s budget becomes law.

In other matters, the committee is seeking to give the Maui Visitors Bureau a $1.5 million grant next fiscal year, or half of the $3 million grant it received this fiscal year.

The Cost of Government Commission in a report in April suggested eliminating the grant, given that the county spends 12 times more on its visitors bureau than its closest counterpart and that county investment return has been lower than in other counties.

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

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