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Kenoi explains 2010-11 budget decisions

Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi has issued the following statement on his proposed 2010-11 county budget:

Crafting a County budget is a series of decisions. When times are good, the choices are easy. When times are tough, they are difficult.

Since announcing my proposed Hawaii County budget for Fiscal Year 2010-11, most of the discussion has focused on a decision to eliminate the Hawaii County Band.
I understand the band’s long tradition of service and the deep emotions that surround this issue. It demonstrates the passion many share for this important part of our County’s history.

Yet today our County faces its most difficult financial challenge ever. After 11 years of unprecedented growth that ended in 2008, our economy came crashing down with the national economy and its full effects haven’t been felt yet. Since taking office I’ve said many times we would face deep and painful cuts in the structure of government, and we’ve been preparing for that.

Each of our County departments cut their operating budgets by 5 percent when I took office. They cut 10 percent this year, and they’re being asked to cut another 20 percent in the coming year.

The proposed budget is down $28 million from when I took office 16 months ago. We have 95 fewer County employees working because of hiring restrictions. We’ve unfunded 55 vacant positions, the largest number in County history, and we plan to unfund 111 more.

And in the proposed budget, most County employees receive furloughs two days a month beginning July 1, amounting to a 9 percent pay cut, the equivalent of more than one month’s pay.

Meanwhile, the state Legislature is considering taking our fair share of hotel room taxes, which could cost our County close to $18 million next year. To put that in perspective, our two-day furloughs for County employees will save about $7 million.

I am still fighting hard to make the state keep its promise to continue providing our fair share of the hotel tax revenues, which pays for the critical services our County provides to visitors. If the state takes that away, our County will face much greater economic challenges than we already have.

The FY 2010-2011 budget my administration has proposed keeps our commitment to public safety, and it reflects a deep and abiding respect for our senior citizens and kupuna who have given all their lives to raising families and working hard to make our beautiful island home a better place to live. We won’t cut a nickel from senior citizen programs and services, nor will we cut children’s programs.

My proposed budget is a blueprint for reworking the basic structure of government. It raises fundamental questions: What is important? What can we do without? Every program or service has its supporters. Whatever is cut will disappoint someone. Everyone on our island will feel the effects of this budget, requiring a shared sacrifice on everyone’s part.

This administration respects and admires the County bands. The band was not the first program that we looked at for cost savings. We’re saving almost $1 million a year by limiting transfer station hours. The police fleet vehicles program was cut by $1 million. We’ve cut County golf programs by $600,000. We’ve cut overtime, travel, police cadet scholarships, coqui frog eradication, the Kahaluu Park Ranger program, and more.

Yet not everything is grim. We are building major new roads to improve traffic circulation, sewers to improve our environment, police and fire stations to improve public safety, and a new West Hawaii Civic Center to improve public services. We’re moving forward with affordable housing at Kamakoa, and we’re building a new homeless shelter. We have nearly $100 million in federal stimulus funds and more than $100 million in County funding invested in projects that keep our workers employed and their families strong.

Others also are contributing to a sense of optimism about our future. The National Guard is building a new $50 million center, and the private sector is investing $50 million in new Target and Safeway stores. Exciting new energy projects from firms such as Sopogy and Big Island Carbon will help us achieve our goal of energy self-sufficiency.

The band remains funded through July 1 and there is time to consider alternatives for the future. If not tax dollars, then perhaps creative ways to continue such a worthy, time-honored institution can be explored.

When the economy turns for the better, our band will still be here. As a community, we will find a way.

Billy Kenoi,
Mayor of Hawaii County

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