Council set to scrutinize budget: Department heads to plead their case in three days of hearings

  • SAKO

  • Kanealii-Kleinfelder

It’s a week only number-crunchers truly love.

The County Council, sitting as the Finance Committee, is poised to take a deep dive into the county budget Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It’s a time when county department heads and other officials take their turns before the panel to plead their cases for money, to justify the importance of their programs.

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“Given the lasting effects of COVID on our community, the special Finance meeting is a welcome opportunity for our community and the council to discuss the particulars of each department’s budget as drafted by the mayor’s team,” Finance Committee Chairman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said.

“Each day we will listen and offer comment on specific departments budgets including capital improvement projects, staffing and supplemental requests,” he said.

Mayor Mitch Roth’s $590.8 million preliminary spending plan is just $4.8 million more than last year, a scant 0.8% increase. That funding comes from a 3% increase in property tax revenues due to increased values, bringing in an additional $9.9 million.

There is also a $188.8 million preliminary capital improvement budget covering 66 projects. But the CIP budget is seen more as a wish list than a punch list, and projects often linger years on the books.

The mayor has until May 5 to submit his final proposed budget, which will be taken up and likely amended by the County Council before going into effect July 1. The council is also charged with setting property tax rates to fund the operating budget.

On the bright side for the county, $36 million to $39 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding is expected to come directly to the county over the next two years. On the minus side, collections from the general excise tax, fuel taxes and tax surcharges on utilities remain down, and the county is unlikely to get any money from the transient accommodations taxes on hotels and short term rentals for the second year in a row.

There’s still quite a bit of uncertainty in the numbers, Finance Director Deanna Sako said Friday.

“We are looking forward to our budget discussions with the council next week. We continue to track the state legislation to determine the impact that will have on our budget. We do not have any updates on the federal money,” Sako said. “I think the priority was for them to get the stimulus payments out to individuals and families, then worry about the state and local governments after that. We continue to watch for additional information.”

The meetings kick off with the Mayor’s Office at 9 a.m. Tuesday, a day that also includes the Planning Department, Fire Department and Department of Public Works. Wednesday includes the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and Police Department among others. The sessions wrap up Thursday with Mass Transit, Parks and Recreation and Department of Environmental Management.

The meetings are live-streamed on the County Council’s website.

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The public may provide oral testimony via Zoom. To register to testify, email jeanette.aiello@hawaiicounty.gov or call 961- 8255 no later than noon Monday. The public can also submit written testimony to counciltestimony@hawaiicounty.gov.

”I always appreciate this time each year and I urge our community to participate and voice their ideas of what’s important in the upcoming fiscal year. These proceedings give each council member a voice at the table as a representative for their community,” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said. “This methodology clearly exemplifies the check and balance system offered by open collaboration between the administration and council to finalize the upcoming budget.”

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