HILO —A move to take County Council budget planning behind closed doors will be heard today by the council Finance Committee.
Kohala Councilman Tim Richards wants an ad hoc committee of four of the nine council members to meet with top administrators and, together, present a budget plan the rest of the council could discuss and vote on.
The measure will be debated when the committee meets at 9 a.m. at the West Hawaii Civic Center. The public can also participate by videoconference from Hilo council chambers, the Pahoa and Waimea council offices, the old Kohala courthouse and the Naalehu state office building.
Richards said he wants to avoid a repeat of last year’s council budget process, which extended almost to midnight in the final meeting as the council grappled with raising property taxes to pay for increased costs.
“That was a sprint from the get-go,” Richards told fellow council members at a Feb. 6 meeting. “The idea is to not go through the cycle like last year and be more methodical about it.”
Richards said a similar approach is taken by the Maui council when it works on its budget.
The state Sunshine Law allows a subcommittee of less than a voting majority to meet privately to investigate matters and make recommendations to the full board provided the scope of the investigation and scope of each member’s authority is defined at a public meeting of the board. The subcommittee must present its findings at another public meeting of the board.
Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter, the chairwoman of the council, is skeptical. She points out that the full council already holds departmental budget and program reviews in meetings. In addition, she said, council members can meet with department heads individually to discuss projects and priorities in their own districts any time they want to.
The mayor is scheduled to present his proposed budget to the council March 1, with a revised proposed budget due by May 5. Departmental budget meetings before the council are scheduled for April 17-19. The current operating budget is $491 million.
“I don’t know what the purpose is,” Poindexter said of Richards’ proposal. “There’s pros and cons to doing this because the public’s perception of just a group of individuals going to get that information and then as a group going to be the ones to push for us to lean one way or the other. What will it look like?”
Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, however, agreed with Richards.
“I like the idea of an ad hoc committee where we can drill down or just look at the department as a whole and then report back,” Lee Loy said.
Finance Committee Chairwoman Maile David, who represents South Kona and Ka‘u, isn’t sure the Sunshine Law and council rules cover such a broad topic as the county budget.
“How do we define the specific duties of the ad hoc committee without overstepping the fact that we have four people on the ad hoc who will have the ability to (create the budget)?” David asked.