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Nearly $1.07B county budget proposal advances

Budget committee chairperson says funds needed for pandemic-deferred county projects

By MELISSA TANJI

Staff Writer

Hoping to tackle projects delayed by the pandemic, a Maui County Council committee is proposing a nearly $1.07 billion county budget for fiscal year 2023, just slightly higher than the almost $1.05 billion “record-setting” budget proposed by Mayor Michael Victorino in March.

“After deferring important county infrastructure improvements the past two years due to the pandemic, it was necessary to make significant long term investments in programs, projects and services to help our communities and businesses thrive,” Budget Finance and Economic Development Committee Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez said Friday afternoon on the increased budget proposal.

For example, the committee added $7 million for workforce housing efforts, put expanding food security at the forefront by doubling the county’s investment in farmers via micro-grants for $3 million and added more than $3 million for traffic safety improvements, Rawlins-Fernandez said.

In the committee’s proposed budget, members are seeking a nearly $806 million operating budget and a capital improvement budget of nearly $264 million. The total amounts to $1.069 billion.

In comparison, Victorino’s plan included a $794 million operating budget and a capital improvement budget of $251 million, for a total of $1.045 billion.

The mayor’s proposal was a nearly 24 percent increase over the current county budget of $843.5 million. The committee’s version, if adopted, would be a nearly 27 percent increase.

On Thursday afternoon, the budget committee wrapped up a month of budget discussions and finalized the proposal that is now being sent to the full council for two readings, the first on May 26 and the second on June 8.

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

The new fiscal year begins on July 1 and runs through June 30, 2023.

In an email Friday afternoon, Victorino thanked Rawlins-Fernandez and the committee “for the thorough review and considerations behind their recommended budget.”

“Overall, I am very pleased the committee maintained the budgetary priorities for investing in housing, infrastructure and economic diversification set forth by the departments,” Victorino said. “Working together, we continue to support the vital community services and programs that make Maui County no ka oi.”

One of Victorino’s big-ticket items that the committee kept in the budget was the $43 million in general obligation bonds for the design and construction of the Halau of ‘Oiwi Art, a facility in Wailuku to “foster the art” of hula and other cultural practices.

Rawlins-Fernandez said the funding is from bonds and does not come out of property taxes. Since it is budgeted in the capital improvement projects portion of the budget, the council could amend it at anytime throughout the year to hold the administration accountable, she said.

She added that the project is “a long-overdue investment that rightfully recognizes the cultural significance and contributions of the indigenous people of this place.”

The funds will be strategically leveraged to secure an additional $11 million in federal funding, Rawlins-Fernandez added.

The committee also added its own priority items, including a proposal from Council Member Kelly King that would place $9.5 million from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund toward a wastewater treatment facility in Maalaea.

Currently the community is relying on outdated injection wells as nearby waters are on the state’s list of impaired bodies of water, meaning that an applicable water quality standard is not being attained, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Other items supported by the committee included $3.2 million in the Affordable Housing Fund, $2 million for Hana area road improvements that the community has been asking for and $2.5 million to implement recommendations of the county’s Comprehensive Affordable Housing Plan.

On Thursday, the committee also finalized its proposed property tax rates that the council will approve separately from the budget. The property tax rate resolution will be taken up on May 13, following a recessed public hearing at 11 a.m.

The committee proposed lower rates for owner-occupied properties but increased rates for short-term rentals while keeping hotel and resort rates flat.

Rawlins-Fernandez said the rates were “to lessen the burden on long-term residents and moderately increase rates in classifications directly linked to tourism, an industry that was developed to make life better for our residents.”

“This policy-driven tax scheme is intended to steer toward striking a balance between transient accommodations and quality of life for our residents,” she said.

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

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