WAILUKU - Mayor Alan Arakawa stormed out of a Maui County Council Budget and Finance Committee meeting Tuesday afternoon while council members discussed recent cutbacks in landfill hours and trash pickup services.
"I'm leaving . . . You could be talking to me directly to find a solution but obviously you don't want to find a solution," Arakawa told members as he stood up and exited Council Chambers in the middle of the committee's deliberations.
The mayor interrupted Council Member Elle Cochran, leading to a short recess.
Arakawa said in a statement issued shortly after the meeting that he intends to submit a budget amendment today so that the county may restore all trash and landfill reductions. The amendment will include a request for four new positions that were previously denied by the council, said county spokesman Rod Antone.
Tensions between the Arakawa administration and the Maui County Council have been high since the administration announced in July that it would suspend trash pickup services and close all landfills on county holidays and shorten operating hours at all five county landfills. Originally, there was no makeup trash pickup after a holiday, but later makeup collections were scheduled for some customers.
The cutbacks went into effect Aug. 1.
A letter from the department was issued last week to 26,000 residences, department officials said, but council members said that many people still were not aware of the changes.
"This morning as I drove down our street I counted the cans that were sitting outside, almost every other house a cart was sitting on the curb ready for pickup, many were overflowing with covers barely on, stuff sticking out, and already trash beginning to gather on the ground," council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa said at Tuesday's meeting. She and others who testified reported seeing dozens of trash cans waiting along curbs in their neighborhoods where residents did not realize there would be no makeup pickup after the Labor Day holiday Monday.
"We've got a crisis, and we've got to deal with this," Baisa said.
Tuesday's meeting was an attempt to figure out a viable solution to restore the county's trash services, though no resolution had been reached by the end of the meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Arakawa said in the statement that the only way to restore services is for the council to "fund necessary positions so that our landfill operations can remain in compliance with all state and federal regulations, and we can resume holiday trash pickup."
The administration had requested six expansion positions earlier this year, but the council only approved two positions in its budget passed in June. Environmental Management Department officials have maintained that the changes are necessary to address regulatory compliance, safety, engineering and operations issues. They said noncompliance has cost the county $4.5 million since 2006, though only $140,000 in fines have been levied since 2011.
"Fines and penalties are an absolute waste of taxpayer money," said department Director Kyle Ginoza. "To be proactive is something where we give better service to the community, reduce fines and penalties, and have government look better to our people and the community we're trying to serve. Yes, it's just four positions, but it's four vitally important positions."
Still, the department received 99 percent of the funds it had requested in its $30 million operating budget for the current fiscal year, Budget Committee Chairman Mike White said. The four denied positions totaled $140,000, which any department should be able to accommodate, White said.
"Leaders have a responsibility to make decisions that provide for the reallocation of resources," White said. "All they'd have to do is make small adjustments here and there and they'd be able to cover the responsibilities they've done so well in covering for a long time."
He added that the four positions would not have been filled for another four months, yet the administration implemented service cuts within the first month of the fiscal year that began July 1. He said he did not think a budget amendment was needed - certainly not this early on in the fiscal year - and that the cuts are a result of the mayor's politicking.
"This has nothing to do with the budget. This has everything to do with it being campaign season," said White, who is facing a stiff challenge from Mike Molina, a former council member and an Arakawa executive assistant.
"They (the administration) have put out word, 'Blame it on the council. Blame it on the council.' I'm sorry, but I'm not going to accept the blame. The administration made the decision they're going to cut the services. It's not us that initiated the lack of service. It's not us that can fix it. We provide the money. They operate it," White said.
Council Members Riki Hokama and Cochran suggested that a "full-on audit" be conducted of the department. Ginoza said he welcomed the audit, which he said would likely show that the department needs even more positions to remain in compliance with state and federal laws.
Other members just wanted trash services restored as soon as possible.
"It's not a matter of pointing fingers, but how can we make things better and not have the insinuation that this is political warfare," said Council Member Stacy Crivello. "We sometimes lose sight of what's (important). When we say we want to provide core services, it's a shame what we're putting our public through."
Tamara Paltin, who will be facing the mayor in the Nov. 4 general election, offered testimony on the matter at the start of the meeting.
"What's most outrageous to me is that the fiscal year just started July 1, and for the department to come up with a shortfall this early on in the game that they can't cover basic needs is just outrageous," Paltin said. "The real loser is our community. It'll go back to people dumping on the side of the road because why even bother driving to the landfill? It's closed anyway. . . . That's not good for anybody. It's not good for tourism, our environment. . . . I just wish the administration would re-evaluate its priorities."
* Eileen Chao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.