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Mayor still waiting for critical budget information from council

Viewpoint

Mayor Michael Victorino’s administration supports transparency and collaboration in working with the Maui County Council and our community.

To that end, Mayor Victorino submitted a proposed fiscal 2020 budget that clearly laid out estimated income and proposed expenditures. The County Council has completed its work on the budget after overriding nine of the mayor’s dozen line-item vetoes.

Today, we are left with less than a week to implement an $800 million-plus budget beginning July 1 and still without some necessary details.

For weeks, we’ve asked for specific budget information needed to put this operational plan to work so our county departments and agencies can continue to provide services to our community. At the end of past council budget deliberations, a document called “Exhibit 1” was presented to the administration. This document was a simple-to-read spreadsheet that showed the council’s proposed budget changes in different colors and the revised revenues for rates, fees, assessments and taxes.

You can see the referenced changes and documents on the council’s fiscal year 2019 page at www.mauicounty.us/2019budget/.

The council doesn’t need to send us an “Exhibit 1,” per se, but we still need the information it has historically provided. This tells us if estimated revenue matches expenses in the highway, liquor and other restricted funds, and also ensures that these funds are not being illegally commingled into other funds.

Many of the concerns expressed by the mayor were about vague and ambiguous language in the budget ordinance. The administration is legally bound to follow the exact language of the budget — not on what is discussed during committee meetings or on the council floor. Committee reports can give guidance, but the budget ordinance itself is the governing document.

Let’s look at an example — the council’s decision to appropriate millions for the expansion of the South Maui wastewater collection and treatment system and upgrades to the Upcountry Sewer System Upgrades. The department has money to spend but no clear direction in what to do with it.

Expansion projects sound great, and we support water reuse projects as a way of not wasting a valuable resource. But the reality is that sewage expansion projects require planning, design, bidding and coordination with other departments. There can be complications with utilities, and there may be land acquisition matters if the projects go off county-owned property and require easements on state or privately owned property. Multi-million-dollar capital improvement projects are usually a four-year process with planning and design happening at the front end.

When looking at the council’s website, including the page specifically for the Fiscal Year 2020 budget (www.mauicounty.us/2020budget/), it takes quite a bit of digging to find the budget ordinance adopted by the council and the Economic Development and Budget Committee Report. These documents are helpful but still lack the descriptive information required for the administration to properly implement the budget.

Presenting our residents with difficult-to-navigate online budget documents leaves them without a clear understanding of how their tax dollars are spent and managed. Let’s work together to make our county budgeting process transparent, efficient and accessible to everyone.

* Sandy Baz is managing director and former budget director of the County of Maui.