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Hoffmann: As the budget smoke clears

The following was released Wednesday, June 16 by Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann:

After a record-setting Council meeting on June 7 (lasting some 18+ hours) the forty amendments suggested by various Council members left the Mayor’s version of the 2010-2011 County Operating Budget largely unchanged.

I remain convinced that the County did not have to promote property tax rate increases to balance the budget. The majority of the amendments proposed at that meeting by Councilman Dominic Yagong did offer alternatives which could have reduced, if not completely eliminated, the tax increases. I’m disappointed the Council could not have seen the wisdom of adopting some of these proposals.

I’m disappointed further by the administration’s inability to grasp the advantages of stressing cooperation and partnership in this effort. I’m aware that politics can be absolute on occasions, but here was a superb opportunity for both administration and Council to recognize that some reduction of the tax rate increases might have dampened voter disgust at such an option.

Certainly the credibility of County government would have been enhanced, and it is just that weakness or lack of credibility which plagues the political landscape on our island. I would argue we must do a lot more to restore that credibility, particularly as we look ahead at a less than optimistic economic future.

No one will be enthusiastic about potential tax increases, but it is a worthwhile objective for both Council and the Mayor to insure that expenses are reduced to a minimum before tax rates are raised any further. The public must have confidence that the County is spending the moneys they receive in as effective and efficient manner as possible.

In the May public forum on the budget held in Kona, during which I shared the platform with the Mayor, I noted several areas for consideration in reducing budget expenditures in the upcoming fiscal year. Some of these were contained in the failed budget amendments on June 7.

I also indicated a number of alternatives that I felt were necessary for us to change direction towards a more responsive fiscal partnership in our County government. These suggestions included among others: a thorough reform of our property tax system, increased work in the fields of energy and agricultural self-sufficiency, an overhaul of our antiquated land-use policies, better accountability in all aspects of government, and augmented efforts to obtain more federal and state grants.

I recognize these alternatives are more geared to the mid-term results and solutions, rather than be applicable for the next fiscal year. But we must begin sometime to address these topics if we are ever to achieve substantial reform in budgeting and fiscal policy. That time is now.

We may have no option next year except to raise tax rates in ALL categories, not just some, AND to cut occupied staff positions, not only vacant funded ones. I am not an advocate for these options, but I believe they remain real possibilities if the administration doesn’t change direction immediately and begin the arduous process of fiscal reform.

It can be done. The County has the talent to accomplish these objectives. The only question remains: does the County have the fortitude to initiate that process?

Pete Hoffmann
District 9 Councilman

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