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Council begins review of billion-dollar budget

New Department of Agriculture’s budget, staffing discussed

Maui County’s new Department of Agriculture is currently projected to have a nearly $1.4 million budget and up to eight employees, according to the mayor’s budget proposal, which is now undergoing review.

The department, which is expected to launch July 1, will initially be located in a home the county owns near Ichiban Okazuya Hawaii on Kaohu Street in Wailuku.

Deputy Managing Director Josiah Nishita discussed the new department’s budget with the Maui County Council’s Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee Tuesday afternoon.

The committee on Tuesday morning began its review of county departments under Mayor Michael Victorino’s record-setting $1.045 billion proposed fiscal year 2023 budget.

His budget includes a $794 million operating budget and a capital improvement budget of $251 million. It is nearly a 24 percent increase over the current fiscal budget of $843.5 million, which includes $683.2 million for operations and a capital program of $160.3 million.

The council by law has until June 10 to adopt a budget, otherwise the mayor’s budget will take effect. The new fiscal year starts July 1 and runs through June 30, 2023.

Voters approved a Maui County Charter amendment in November 2020 to establish the Agriculture Department. An Agriculture Working Group was created in 2021 to come up with the initial recommendations and guidance for the new department.

According to Victorino’s budget documents, the department will serve all areas of agriculture, from small backyard organic farmers to large conventional farmers as well as ranchers and value-added producers. It will also address food security within Maui County, workforce development for economic diversification and provide education and other opportunities to attract and retain Maui County’s agricultural workforce.

Services the department would provide include grant workshops; resource and market assessment; data collation and dissemination; infrastructure, water, housing and medical needs for local farmers and ranchers; regenerative soil and climate friendly practices; and mitigation efforts toward federal ungulates and invasive species.

Nishita said the county posted a recruitment notice for the director and deputy director jobs on Saturday, with applications due May 9. A selection committee will then review the applications, he said.

Nishita later said he hoped to provide the council with referral information from the selection committee by June 3.

Currently the salaries for the new department heads are $90,000 for the director and $70,000 for the deputy as set by the Salary Commission in March.

Annual pay for the Agriculture Department heads is back on the Salary Commission’s agenda for its Friday meeting.

At Tuesday’s meeting, council members made proposals for specialized staff and adding more funding for programs in the new department. No legislative action was taken.

Public testimony is welcomed as the council continues its review. For more information on agendas and the budget, see mauicounty.us/ 2023-budget/.

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

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