HILO — The county’s biggest budget to date drew little public interest Tuesday evening, with no people coming out to talk about the $515.7 million spending plan at an evening public hearing.
Council members were mixed on how much the budget should cost.
“A half-billion-dollar budget for this county is just eye-popping,” said Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy. “We’ve got to learn to work not only harder but smarter.”
But several council members think the budget isn’t big enough. They point to Maui County, which is currently considering a $900 million budget for a smaller geography with fewer people.
“We’re short-changing our residents,” said Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung. “We’re not doing them any favors.”
Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara said the county hasn’t kept up with the annual cost-of-living increase, much less dealt with years of neglect in such areas as transportation.
Earlier Tuesday, Finance Committee Chairwoman Maile David, who represents South Kona/Ka‘u, put the kibosh on a move by Kohala Councilman Tim Richards to create a special subcommittee to go over the budget and make recommendations to the full council.
Richards said an ad hoc committee, which would meet outside the public eye, would save time and be more efficient rather than having the entire council slog through all the numbers.
“We were under the gun to get that budget organized in a very, very, very short time frame,” Richards said of last year’s budget process. “Expecting us to sort through the budget in a short order … just isn’t realistic.”
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.
Some council members worried the public wouldn’t have a chance to participate under that scenario. Others worried about not being one of the four members who worked on the spending plan.
“The main thing, I believe it should be a collective effort, and by collective, I mean the entire body,” David said. “The inclusiveness is what’s driving me. … We each represent our own districts.”
Council members agreed with Chung that a charter amendment would be in order to change the way the budget is drafted. The charter specifies that the mayor presents a proposed budget March 1 and again by May 5 of each year. Most council members said they wanted more power over budgeting, rather than leaving it to the administration to control the process.