Categorized | Government, News

Hoffmann shares some budget-related comments

Waimea Councilman Pete Hoffmann issued the following statement concerning the county budget:

The Council is more than knee-deep in the annual budget morass. Keeping a sense of perspective on this topic has not always been our strong point, but some of us do attempt to see a bigger picture than simply dollars and cents.

I offer a few items for discussion that transcend budget details for the next fiscal year, and if we can put politics aside for a few minutes, all involved might begin to see the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ or at least a slightly different vision.

I believe that much of the recent criticism leveled at the administration and Council regarding a property tax rate increase has its origin in the ‘sins’ (real or imagined) of previous administrations and Councils.

How often have the voices of a few been ignored when vacant funded positions, overtime, the lack of effective auditing procedures for contracting, and possible overstaffing were brought forward for consideration?

Why are we now ‘suddenly’ surprised by the reaction of island residents who are more than slightly displeased with a tax increase?

What have we done to garner support and prove that County government is able to spend what it collects resourcefully?

I’m pretty certain that most residents would support tax rate increases if there was a perception that the County’s ‘track record’ is based on good budget management.

The lack of that perception is the root of much of the adverse comments we’ve received, and who can blame our residents?

When/if the Council demonstrates that it is really trying to reduce expenses, and not merely rubber-stamp proposals, perhaps we will find a more receptive audience. The Council’s effort must be to convince the vast majority of the general public that it can be fiscally responsible and that it can do its job, i.e. review the budget with the clear objective of being fair to all, while recognizing the tough economic environment in which we live.

There must be a change in the ‘business as usual’ mantra that plagues these annual budget efforts. I believe we can indeed find sufficient funds in the 2010-2011 budget to postpone tax rate increases, at least for another year.

We must now convince residents that we can do that job, if for no other reason than to insure that when tax increases are really necessary, the public will have some confidence that the Council has done its best to limit that burden.

And if the economic climate does not improve, that tax rate increase may well come as soon as this time next year. But if the Council finds the backbone to rollback the proposed rate hikes this year, and if we do find ourselves in ever-deepening economic quicksand in the near future, I’m hoping we will have altered not simply our past practices but also changed public perception. While not everyone will be happy about a tax rate increase, it will be more readily accepted in all our communities.

The Mayor is calling for ‘transparency’ in the Council’s budget efforts. Some may groan at the administration’s use of this term given last autumn’s debate on another version of ‘transparency.’ It should be emphasized this is not an easy budget.

Further, there have been a few pieces of new information relating to vacant funded positions and retirement benefits, received after the mayor submitted his amended budget, that put a somewhat different light on Council proposals to find the funds needed to postpone tax rate increases.

We ask the mayor and the public to be a little more patient as a few of us try and get these amendments correct.

Let’s remember, nothing prohibits the Council office from notifying the press if/when additional amendments are submitted after the Council agenda for June 7 is published. (This is perfectly acceptable as far as Council rules are concerned and, even amendments on the floor the day of the discussion, are legitimate and normal practice in this situation).

The public can learn of late ‘arrivals’ (if any) in the press and have time to digest the proposed amendments before the Council discussion on these issues. This really isn’t a question of ‘transparency’ but one of making certain the Council does its job properly and with attention to detail.

Please also remember, we were all in ‘suspense’ for three months over the nature of the so-called ‘revenue neutral rate adjustments’ that characterized the mayor’s initial budget submission in February. I don’t remember ‘transparency’ being a critical aspect of the budget discussion at that time.

Finally, I think all involved agree that we really don’t wish to raise anyone’s taxes. Certainly we don’t wish to see a reduction in services, and none wish to see people thrust out of work. This is a difficult situation.

All rhetoric aside, however, it is also an outstanding opportunity for co-operation between the Council and the Mayor/ administration. We are presented with an unusual set of circumstances that could signal a return of credibility for all in County government, a situation that permits us to work together in the best interests of our constituents, one in which we can put politics behind us and concentrate on positive budget accomplishments.

I don’t think it’s too hard to imagine. Let’s start with a budget that raises no one’s taxes.

Pete Hoffmann

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