Budget becomes law without Mayor Harry Kim’s signature

HILO — Saying the County Council’s $585.5 million budget isn’t conservative enough, Mayor Harry Kim is letting it become law without his signature.

Kim had the option of signing the budget, vetoing specific line items in it, vetoing it entirely or letting it pass without his signature. The council had passed the 2019-20 spending plan on a 9-0 vote, signifying an easy veto override had Kim gone that route.


He said Thursday he came to the decision after meetings with staff and a thorough look at the spending plan.

Council Chairman Aaron Chung said he shared some of Kim’s concerns about too liberal use of the fund balance, the money anticipated to be left over after the previous budget year. Chung had, in fact, cautioned his colleagues during the budget hearings about just that.

“It’s a calculated risk and I firmly believe we will be OK,” Chung said. “It wasn’t irresponsible. The benefit of the programs far outweigh the risks of us not having the money in the fund balance.”

In a letter sent to council members Wednesday, Kim took issue with the $1.6 million the council added to the budget and the added expenditure of $1 million from fund balance reserves, of which $630,000 went into council members’ own contingency spending accounts.

“While the fund balance increase is still within our estimates, we need to be conservative in our spending,” Kim said in his letter. “It should be pointed out that the expected fund balance is primarily the result of departments being urged to cut spending where possible because of the anticipated 2019-20 collective bargaining and other needs.”

The mayor noted that the county thus far has completed collective bargaining or arbitration with just three of the county’s eight bargaining units. The administration has estimated the additional costs of those units, but the estimate may not prove accurate, he said.

Kim also objected to the transfer of $8.3 million in overtime funding from individual departments to the Finance Department, where council notification will be required when the money is moved back to departments for overtime.

“While this amendment did not grow the budget, the resources necessary to enact this provision are too great,” Kim said in his letter. “It is understood that this amendment was to have better oversight and transparency on this issue, but in reality it does neither.”

The council passed this amendment to bring overtime spending into an open forum, said amendment sponsor, Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy. She noted that the entire council supported it.

“Sometimes change is hard,” Lee Loy said. “The agencies are going to have to check with Finance for overtime. It provides a lot more transparency and openness with the public’s money.”

Kim acknowledged that some of the budget increase comes from grant funding. Among the grants adding to the budget was $480,000 approved by the state Legislature for lifeguards for Kua Bay, a West Hawaii priority for years.

The council added two more positions to the 93 new positions proposed by the mayor. The spending plan begins July 1.

“From my perspective, it’s far better than a veto,” Chung said. “Ultimately we all want to work together. I think this is his way to express his willingness to work with us, and we share the same desire.”

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