Published in The Maui News, May 8, 2016
By MIKE WHITE, for The Maui News
I am pleased to report, after meeting nearly every day for a month, the Maui County Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Monday passed a $659.5 million fiscal year 2017 budget.
The figure is $51.9 million lower than the $711.4 million budget presented by the mayor in March.
This year, balancing the budget was notably challenging, since the mayor anticipated receiving an additional $13.4 million in transient accommodations tax revenue, which did not materialize. The counties will have to do a better job in showing the state Legislature that it is simply unfair to have residents pay for the cost of visitor-related expenses, when visitors are already paying their share through the TAT.
The Budget and Finance Committee, chaired by Council Member Riki Hokama, held evening hearings in every district and heard from hundreds of people through survey responses along with written and oral testimony.
The committee listened and made notable changes, including modifying real property tax rates. Property values have increased by 9.3 percent over last year. As our economic future remains uncertain due to the closure of large employers, adjustments were made to the following categories: homeowner, decreasing from $2.75 to $2.70; residential, decreasing from $5.40 to $5.30; industrial, decreasing from $6.85 to $6.69; agriculture, decreasing from $5.75 to $5.66; conservation, decreasing from $5.90 to $5.80; hotel/resort, decreasing from $8.85 to $8.71; and time share, decreasing from $14.55 to $14.31. apartment, commercial and commercial residential will remain the same.
The budget also included many significant investments.
Through my proposal, the committee increased the open space fund’s appropriation from $3 million to $9.5 million for the acquisition of land at Kuiaha, Hamakualoa.
This funding will help the county acquire 267 acres on Maui’s north shore, near the Peahi, or “Jaws,” big-wave surf spot. I would like to thank the committee for its support and the collaborative effort with Council Vice-Chairman Don Guzman.
Enhancing recreational and social opportunities for local families is another theme for the budget. Through another collaborative effort, Council Member Gladys Baisa and I developed a creative funding mechanism to fully fund $1.2 million for the Upcountry skate park, adjacent to the Pukalani Pool. We heard from many in the community on the importance of this project.
Infrastructure appropriations include $6.1 million for maintenance and road resurfacing, $20.7 million for rehabilitation and road reconfiguration projects, $5 million for the Molokai baseyard and $3.4 million continued funding for the multilevel Wailuku municipal parking lot.
To address homelessness, two positions were granted to the Department of Housing and Human Concerns to focus solely on identifying homelessness solutions. I look forward to seeing tangible results.
To facilitate affordable housing, $2 million was proposed for a Lanai affordable housing project, $2.5 million for Hale Mahaolu Ewalu project in Pukalani and $1 million for affordable rental housing programs.
A 3 percent increase was also granted to most nonprofit organizations dealing with human services, such as Women Helping Women and Mental Health Kokua.
An appropriation of $300,000 was included for the continued eradication of coqui frogs in Haiku, which will bring the county’s total two-year investment to $1.5 million in a good-faith effort to stop invasive species.
The budget process is never easy, but it is one of the most important roles the council has every year. Whether you realize it or not, everyone is impacted by this document. Your feedback is always welcome and very much appreciated.
The council is scheduled to consider the budget on first reading on May 20, with second and final reading on June 3. The budget will take effect on July 1.
Mahalo. And Happy Mother’s Day!
* Mike White is chairman of the Maui County Council. He holds the council seat for the Paia-Haiku-Makawao residency area. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.