Aloha everyone. Once again here is our monthly update.
FISCAL MANAGEMENT OF THE COUNTY OF HAWAII – FINANCE BUDGET AD HOC COMMITTEE:
As I previously discussed, our budget season for fiscal year 2018-2019 is upon us. I won’t repeat my conversation of last month but will touch on a few areas. It may be helpful to go back and re-read that discussion on taxes and budget totals.
Recently I proposed to the Finance Committee the establishment of a budget ad hoc committee. The intention and mission of this committee is very simple and clear; to critically review the 2018–2019 budget for the County of Hawaii and make recommendations to the Finance Committee for full support, adjustments, or cuts on the proposed budget from the mayor. This isn’t a simple process. It will be a time-consuming procedure. In an effort to streamline the process, my thought is to establish an ad hoc committee that can meet outside of council meeting times with the different county departments (replacing the individual meetings between each Council Member and the department heads). The intention is to develop a clear understanding of each department’s needs and then compare and contrast those requests against other departments for the greater good of the county. Under the Sunshine Law, an ad hoc committee may be established with a defined mission, with membership consisting of less than a quorum, and a termination date to report back to the full committee in a public meeting. No decisions are made. Recommendations are brought to the full committee, and authority lies only in that committee for decisions. Comments made by some previously that an ad hoc committee can make decisions “behind closed doors” are inaccurate and misleading.
There are several reasons why I suggest an ad hoc committee. First, the proposed 2018–2019 budget is approximately $515 million. This is up approximately $24 million over last year’s final budget, and over $40 million increase from last year’s initial budget. Reportedly, approximately $12.7 million is for additional wages and benefits to county employees and $4.4 million is for retirement contributions. Some of these increases are a result of the collective bargaining negotiations. Combined, this is approximately $17 million. We have a mass transit/bus system plan before us that could cost our county $200 million over the next 10 years if implemented. There are requests for increased services and public safety; specifically more police. All of this will increase our budget.
On the other side of the discussion is a loud calling from the constituency as to no new taxes. We saw an increase in Real Property Taxes last year up to 6 percent. We saw an increase in the County Fuel Tax of 70 percent. We now have a proposal before us for an increase in the general excise tax (GET). Looking at our proposed expenditures in context with our revenue streams collectively and getting away from the “silo legislation” is best served in a venue that allows open discussion. The ad hoc committee could fulfill this.
In looking at other counties, Maui County Council conducts their process by holding budget meetings daily, 8+ hours a day, between two and three weeks. They essentially do nothing else. Kauai and Honolulu have other varying methods. Last year, we as a council worked independently and then tried to rush at the end to make the deadline. As anyone might imagine, this was problematic.
By my calculation, it costs the county council and its staff (and therefore the constituency) approximately $10,000 an hour to sit in meetings. We can adopt Maui’s model and work diligently on the people’s behalf; but that’s with a significant cost. My hope is that we do something different this year as we collectively want a different outcome. Doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome is very shortsighted.
Our county’s finances are very complex. The balance between revenue and expenditures is an ongoing process with a moving target. Budgeting is not only deciding how much we have and may spend, but more importantly, deciding what projects we will fully fund as opposed to those we can only partially fund or cut entirely.
Please take notice that the Mayor and his administration will be holding a community meeting at Anna’s Ranch at 6 p.m. tonight to discuss his recent GET increase proposal.
As always, it is a great privilege to continue to serve as your councilman.