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Mayor urges Council to scrap last minute budget amendments

Photography by Baron Sekiya | Hawaii 24/7


Mayor Billy Kenoi has expressed disappointment with budget amendments offered by minority members of the Hawaii County Council, pointing out that these Council members want to raise tipping and other fees that will hurt small businesses and consumers.

Other misguided proposals by some Council members would reject grant funding now flowing into the County to pay for activities such as issuing disabled parking permits or providing airborne emergency medical evacuations.

“Many of these last-minute proposals make no sense, and demonstrate that some on the Council don’t understand how to cut the budget while preserving public safety and essential services,” Kenoi said. “Refusing grant money that helps to fund medical evacuations or pays for disabled parking passes that benefit thousands of County residents does nothing to balance the budget. These proposals by Council members would eliminate important services for our residents while actually reducing the flow of money into County coffers. That is no help to anyone.”

Kenoi said it is irresponsible for some on the Council to propose cuts to critical public safety funding, including police and fire overtime budgets and funding for the contract to maintain the police and fire radio systems.

“We expect our police officers and firefighters will respond when there is an emergency, and emergencies occur at all hours of the day and night. That requires paying overtime to police and firefighters to protect the public. Obviously, it also requires a properly functioning public safety radio system,” Kenoi said. “I am unwilling to compromise public safety in any way, and these proposed cuts to the police and fire budgets are unacceptable.”

Kenoi pointed out that other Council proposals are ill-timed, such as a Council plan to budget $4 million from the sale of surplus County lands in the year ahead.

“I am unwilling to engage in a fire sale of County lands, which is why I am delaying the County land sale until the real estate market improves and the taxpayers can get a reasonable price for these publicly owned assets,” Kenoi said. “The public watched the transparent land-sale process unfold, and understands the need for the delay. I am particularly surprised to see Councilmember Hoffmann bring this proposal forward because he previously opposed the County land sale.”

Kenoi warned the Council proposals related to solid waste disposal are headed in the wrong direction, and would require an increase in the County tipping fee charged to commercial waste haulers and businesses across the island. The Council proposals would also restrict the hours of operation for rubbish dumps island-wide, and would block funding for the County’s new anti-dumping initiative.

“I think the public has been absolutely clear that the transfer station hours should be made more convenient, and our budget proposal responds to that request,” Kenoi said. “We are also moving to take action against those who would dump rubbish illegally, fouling our streets and beaches and public spaces. The public supports both initiatives, and the Council should support them as well.”

Another Council proposal would irresponsibly defer $5 million in legally required payments for public employee retirement benefits, a step that will force future taxpayers to pay millions of dollars in additional costs, Kenoi said.

“Bottom line, the Council’s proposed amendments cause more problems than they solve, and don’t get the job done,” Kenoi said. “We spent many months developing a responsible, balanced budget that spends $27 million less than the budget that was in effect when I took office. My proposed budget cuts are carefully calculated to preserve essential services and protect public safety while reducing County spending and the number of County employees. Our budget imposes unprecedented furloughs of two days per month on most County employees. It eliminates 70 vacant positions, the most in County history, and over the past two years we have eliminated 125 vacant positions. Our budget reduces overtime, travel and training, contract services, equipment purchases and many other expenses.”

“It is important that the Council also remember we are cutting County tax collections,” Kenoi said. “The County collected nearly $226 million in property taxes the year I took office. The County expects to collect $217 million in property taxes this year. After my proposed adjustment in tax rates, we project the County will collect less than $217 million in the year ahead.”

“We responsibly reduced the size and cost of government, and I believe the public supports my budget,” Kenoi said. “The Council should support it as well.”

The Council will meet 7:30 a.m. Monday, June 7 in Hilo. The budget is up for second reading, which follows statements from the public, resolutions and first reading items.

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