Eruption racks up police OT

  • Members of Hawaii County Civil Defense, CERT and Hawaii Police Department prepare to dispatch from Cooper Center May 17 to go door to door in Volcano informing residents about potential ash fall and its effects. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

  • Police direct traffic a road blockade May 4 at Pahoa Village Road and Highway 130 in Pahoa. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

  • Emergency vehicles and residents park at a road blockade May 4 at Highway 130 and Leilani Avenue near Leilani Estates. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)
  • Police direct traffic a road blockade May 4 at Pahoa Village Road and Highway 130 in Pahoa. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)
  • Authorities stationed at an entrance to the Leilani Estates refuse entrance to a resident, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Pahoa. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
  • A woman with two dogs in her car tries to enter the Leilani Estates, Friday, May 4, 2018, in Pahoa. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

KAILUA-KONA — About $1 million has been redirected within the Hawaii Police Department to cover overtime hours piling up as lava continues to flow in Puna.

Officers racked up 11,020 hours in overtime between May 1 and 31 amid the May 3 eruption on Kilauea volcano’s lower East Rift Zone. As a result, the department is currently a little more than $300,000 over budget in salaries and wages as this fiscal year winds to a close.

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But, there was approximately 20 days yet to be calculated as of Wednesday, in addition to nine more days left in the fiscal year ending June 30.

Assistant Chief Marshall Kanehailua estimated overtime from the 20 days yet to be calculated could put the department over budget by as much as $600,000 when it’s all said and done.

“If you take away the lava event, we were breaking even,” Kanehailua said of fiscal year 2017-18.

The police department’s 2017-18 operating budget accounted for $67.2 million of the county’s $490.8 million budget.

The police department will start the next budget cycle — which begins July 1 — with overtime on the books, as Hawaii County faces a $5 million shortfall for the 2018-19 fiscal year, Kanehailua said.

The $5 million shortfall is attributed to loss of property tax revenues in Puna, where lava has consumed nearly 6,000 acres and more than 500 homes. The county hoped to offset that loss with a temporary quarter-percent general excise tax surcharge, which the County Council voted against in a Tuesday meeting by a 4-5 vote.

“The budgets have been status quo and reduced budgets, so there isn’t a lot there to cut,” said Nancy Crawford, deputy director of Finance regarding department budgets.

Crawford said the county started Tuesday night to look at potential budget cuts for the $518 million 2018-19 financial plan.

For the 2017-18 fiscal year, Kanehailua said the police cut its budget by $300,000 in salaries and wages. The cut was part of a reduction that every department in the county had to make.

As they look at next year’s budget, Kanehailua said, they’re starting bare bones.

“Anything we cut at this point will have a direct impact on employees or operations,” he said.

Since the flow began, South Hilo and Puna districts have been working 12-hour shifts in order to supplement the event and keep core services in place. Officials are working to streamline the process to cut down on those overtime hours.

“We discuss plans every day,” Kanehailua said.

However, he added, long-term solutions are hard to plan for as the flow changes daily.

“Unlike a hurricane or an earthquake it comes and then it goes. But this — there’s a threat that it could go somewhere else,” Kanehailua said. “There’s a lot of ‘what-ifs.’”

With funds being stretched on the east side, the department is finding money in other districts in their unused overtime and vacant positions to help in the continued lava event.

In May, $687,000 was transferred to the South Hilo, Waimea, Kohala, Puna police stations and the police commission. Funds were redirected from police headquarters, administrative services, technical services, traffic, dispatch, Criminal Investigations Division, Juvenile Aid and Vice, and North Hilo, Kona police, Kona police CID and Ka‘u police stations.

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On June 15, funds were redirected again to South Hilo, Puna and a few other departments, totaling $354,100.

Crawford said Gov. David Ige released $12 million to the county to aid in disaster response.