Budget was collaborative, transparent endeavor

VIEWPOINT

It is often said that a budget is a moral document.

Whether for a household, a business, an organization or the County of Maui, a budget reflects priorities, values and principles.

This year the County Council’s Economic Development and Budget Committee, working collaboratively with the dependable assistance of administrative resource staff, Budget Director Michele Yoshimura, Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffrey Ueoka and the Office of Council Services, diligently developed an annual budget to fulfill the ideals of Maui County residents.

The committee did this by traveling to Lanai, Molokai and every district on Maui to listen to constituents’ priorities and concerns.

The committee also consulted adopted statements and guidelines found within the County Charter and the General Plan. Derived from these documents and enumerated in the committee report recommending its passage, the county’s balanced budget for fiscal year 2020 does the following:

• Confirms the worth and dignity of every person in Maui County.

• Reflects decision-making with a balanced approach that gives consideration to as many policy viewpoints as possible.

• Preserves natural resources, the islands’ identity and cultural assets.

• Expands housing opportunities for residents.

In closing remarks to my colleagues before the committee’s vote on the budget proposal on April 29, I expressed that council members regarded the budget session as a collaborative, transparent effort, as was consciously intended. I thanked the Mayor’s Office, the Department of the Corporation Counsel and our support staff for their steadfast work throughout the entirety of the review process.

I also thanked my colleagues for having the courage to present their innovative ideas, included in the committee’s budget proposal, which allow the county to accomplish noble longtime community goals. I added that I wanted it to be a proposal that reflected all of us, and I had deliberately worked to ensure that everyone’s voices were heard.

I remain optimistic about the fiscal year ahead and grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with Mayor Michael Victorino and his administration.

The council did have some philosophical disagreements with the administration about how best to move forward, but not many. At the end of the day, I think it’s safe to say both the council and the administration share very similar fundamental goals for this community.

The mayor described his budget proposal as “austere,” upon presentation, but the council heeded community voices who implored us to strive for investment in economic and environmental sustainability over austerity.

Regardless of how we begin, our fates are tied together, as the legislative and executive branches rely on each other to serve in the public’s best interests. It is with that forethought and visioning that I intend to apply my energy while in office.

This budget session, the council chose to give the department heads more flexibility in expending their operational funds than may have been expected. It’s understandable that the departments are unaccustomed to having flexibility to make the best use of their funds and operate more fluidly in doing so. However, this council is the first that’s been tasked with vetting all mayor-appointed department heads. All current directors have been endorsed by the council, and their success is all our success.

If there are any budget items for which the mayor would like additional clarification, I willingly welcome his proposed budget amendments to the council and will gladly expedite their consideration to ensure the departments receive the direction they may desire.

The recurring message that this year’s budget is the largest in our county’s history is misleading. In fact, this is the seventh consecutive year that the adopted budget showed an increase from the previous year’s adopted budget.

Considering the county’s continued growth and inflation, that is not surprising, and sensationalizing the increase gives our community the wrong impression.

Maui County’s rate of growth in the fiscal year 2020 budget was the lowest among all counties in Hawaii.

The committee was also able to keep Maui County’s real property tax rates the lowest in the state for residents. But I acknowledge we can make taxation more equitable. That’s why immediately after budget I proposed forming a temporary investigative group on tax reform, which will commence work early next week.

My Economic Development and Budget Committee sought to provide access to budget documents, including an online database that had searchable, frequently updated links to correspondence. But we can do much more to improve transparency.

On Tuesday at 9 a.m. in the Council Chambers, the committee will receive a presentation on a software program that could be used for the fiscal year 2021 budget session to increase openness and accountability. Please consider testifying or watching the meeting.

* Keani Rawlins-Fernandez is chairwoman of the council’s Economic Development and Budget Committee. She holds the council seat for the Molokai residency area.