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County Council passes austere $823M budget

$67 million in CARES Act funding also is approved

ALICE LEE, Adjustments were made

The Maui County Council on Friday approved on second and final reading an $822.6 million county budget for fiscal 2020-21, which reflects the “new normal” as the county deals with coronavirus impacts.

This means a leaner budget but also $66.6 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security or CARES Act funds.

The budget, which runs from July 1 to June 30, 2021, is $47 million less than Mayor Michael Victorino’s proposed budget of $869.8 million released in March, as coronavirus cases were increasing but before the county’s stay-at-home orders went into effect.

The total was less than the record $823.6 million passed by the council last year.

Friday’s budget total is a little higher than the

KEANI RAWLINS-FERNANDEZ, We worked collaboratively

$819.3 million approved on first reading May 26. Council Chairwoman Alice Lee explained after the meeting that adjustments were made to the operational budget Friday, which included tweaks to an interfund transfer.

The county’s budget for operations is $683 million and for capital improvement projects, $140 million.

Council members were able to scale back the budget by asking all departments to take at least a 5 percent cutback. The council Economic Development and Budget Committee, led by Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, focused on funding shovel-ready projects and reduced funding for expansion positions and programs that could be deferred to next fiscal year. They also reduced expenses like travel, office furniture and equipment.

The budget also largely kept intact social service grants under the Department of Housing and Human Concerns. Figuring residents would need more help securing affordable housing rather buying a home during the pandemic, the council reduced the First Time Homebuyers Program from $3 million to $2 million and bumped up the Affordable Rental Housing Program from $1.4 million to $2 million.

Members also boosted revenue for housing by recommending that 4 percent of real property taxes go toward the Affordable Housing Fund; the Maui County Charter requires at least 2 percent.

Maui County Communications Director Brian Perry said Friday afternoon that Victorino had not yet received the county budget bills and that the administration will defer comment.

But Victorino did receive and sign Friday a $67 million budget amendment measure containing CARES Act funding.

Once a memorandum of understanding with the governor is in place, the mayor said he will release at least 50 percent of the money immediately. Victorino said some of the money would go to food pantries, churches and other organizations “to feed the needy, those that are unemployed.”

He said money also would be spent for microbusiness programs and for programs that help unemployed people with mortgages, electric bills and other expenses.

After the council meeting, Lee commended Rawlins-Fernandez and council staff for setting up an all online budget meeting process, due to restrictions with COVID-19.

“Finally, everyone started to fall in and start to work as a team. This is where we are now,” Lee said. “The bottom line is it passed (unanimously) 9 to 0, so what else can you say, that’s the proof in the pudding, the fact it was a unanimous vote in favor of the budget.”

In her remarks, Rawlins-Fernandez said the budget paints a picture of how she hopes the council moves the county into the next fiscal year.

“We were able to work collaboratively with each other and the administration, in very uncertain times and amidst unforeseen economic and social obstacles, to produce a budget that will sustain the county and allow for much-needed economic development opportunities in the fiscal year,” she said.

She said the committee worked to minimize discretionary expenditures, reduce expansion positions and travel-related expenses, and defer nonshovel-ready projects. They prioritized spending on social services, environmental protection, climate change, housing and economic diversification and self-sufficiency.

Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura said that “this budget reflects what is happening in the community with the coronavirus.”

Council Member Mike Molina said that while the budget “was put on a diet,” because of the impacts of COVID-19, “it provides relief and help for those most in need.”

“I really feel this budget is a manifestation of less is more,” said Council Member Kelly King. The council was able to “cut some of the fat” off the budget and put off things that could wait.

She applauded outgoing Council Member Riki Hokama for his work on the budget during his years on the council that placed Maui County in good financial position. This is Hokama’s last budget because he cannot seek reelection this year due to term limits.

In other council matters:

• The council on second and final reading approved a bill that gives raises to council services staff and its top managers. Hokama and Sugimura voted against the increases.

• On first reading, members approved a bill that would allow recipients of grants to be eligible to receive upfront disbursement of 25 percent or more of the grant funds requested. Remaining grant funds must be paid through the county’s reimbursement process. The bill also increases the penalties for noncompliance, which could involve prohibiting the recipient from applying for grants for five years as well as returning all funds or property given.

* Staff Writer Lila Fujimoto contributed to this report. Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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