HILO — Thirty-five new police personnel, including 10 officers each for Ka‘u and Puna, nine new sergeants and six dispatchers, along with body cameras and computer upgrades, play center stage in a $573.5 million budget proposed Friday by Mayor Harry Kim.
The budget, which is $55.5 million, or 10.7 percent, higher than this year, won’t raise property taxes, but relies on increased property values and an assortment of other taxes and fees.
“Nobody wants to rely solely on property taxes,” Kim said in an interview in his office. “Seventy percent of our revenues are from property taxes already.”
Among the sources of new revenue are the one-quarter percent surcharge on the general excise tax, expected to raise $25 million, a 5 percent increase in property values that will bring in an additional $15.7 million, previously approved increases in fuel taxes for $6.1 million, new grant money for $3.1 million, increases in sewer and landfill fees for $2.8 million and registration and fines for the new short-term vacation rental program for $846,000.
The budget includes $26.1 million in additional salaries, wages and benefits, most due to state-level collective bargaining agreements and mandated contributions to retirement funds. In addition to police with an additional $5.8 million, other priorities are speeding up road repaving, with an additional $2.7 million appropriated, and enhancing the mass transit system, with an addition $5 million.
There is no additional funding for homelessness programs, as the administration believes funding from the governor’s programs will be sufficient to address the most pressing needs this year.
Kim said an increased police presence has been the most requested addition to county services among the various communities he’s talked with. He said Puna, as the fastest-growing region in the state, and Ka‘u, which has few police officers patrolling an especially large rural district, were most in need of the officers.
The mayor’s plan won accolades from Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder, who has sponsored a resolution seeking more Puna police officers that’s expected to be taken up by the council’s Public Safety Committee on March 12.
“Every day, men and women from our communities spend their working hours protecting us and I feel this is necessary to increase both their and our security,” Kanealii-Kleinfelder said Friday. “I’m very, very thankful the mayor is considering our resolution and understands the public safety benefit in adding more positions to our Puna and Ka‘u police force.”
Council Chairman Aaron Chung, who represents Hilo, echoed Kanealii-Kleinfelder’s praise for the increased police.
“I’m very encouraged by beefing up of police presence, especially in Puna,” Chung said. “That area, particularly upper Puna, is an area that really needs more police protection. They’ve been clamoring for it. We were going to make a push for that.”
The preliminary proposed budget now goes to the County Council, which will hold departmental reviews April 16-18. The mayor’s final proposed budget will be released by May 5. Once amended and passed by the council, it goes into effect July 1.
This year’s budget process is going to be much different than in previous years, Chung said. Based on the direction of Kohala Councilman Tim Richards and Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, the council plans to take a more active role in drilling down into the details of the administration’s spending, he said.
The council is especially looking at Maui County’s approach to budgeting, hoping to emulate some of that county’s successes.
“Unlike years past, when we got the initial budget and we just waited around until we got the May final budget, there’s going to be more scrutiny in this process,” Chung said. “If there’s one thing we learned from all these tax increases we’ve been approving, is that even among those people who favored the increase they needed more transparency in the way those moneys would be spent.”