Public gets first chance to comment on proposed budget
HILO — The public will get its first chance Monday to weigh in on Mayor Billy Kenoi’s proposed 2013-14 budget and on Tuesday will be able to comment on across-the-board property tax hikes of just over 10 percent.
Kenoi submitted a revised $394.3 million budget last week that’s $27 million, or 7.4 percent, higher than this year’s budget. The new budget year begins July 1.
The budget is based on property tax hikes of 10.2 to 10.8 percent, depending on the property classification. It’s the first tax hike since 2010, and Kenoi’s second since taking office.
In addition to property tax increases, hikes in bus fares, park fees and vehicle registration and weight taxes are also factored into the new budget.
Council Chairman J Yoshimoto of Hilo said Thursday he hasn’t decided whether he’ll support tax hikes or not. He, like other council members, is meeting with constituents and the administration to clarify areas of concern.
“The biggest concern seems to be what would the money be going toward,” he said.
Yoshimoto is hoping for a lot of public testimony at the meetings.
“It will be interesting to hear the testimony from the people,” he said. “That will be a factor in the decision-making process.”
The money will go for 28 new employees, ending monthly employee furloughs, raises negotiated in collective bargaining agreements, new equipment, increased payments on debt and investment in the GASB 45 fund for retirement benefits for employees.
The County Council meets at 8 a.m. Monday for a line-by-line review and amendment of the budget. At 5 p.m. Tuesday, the council will hold a public hearing on the proposed increases in property taxes. Both meetings will be held in Hilo council chambers, with videoconferencing at the West Hawaii Civic Center, Hawaiian Ocean View Estates Community Center and the Pahoa and Waimea council offices.
Council members have already begun submitting amendments to the budget. The six amendments posted by Friday, however, don’t increase or decrease the size of the budget, but dip into the fund balance, the money left over from prior years to fund pet projects.
Kenoi’s proposed budget adds five new police officers in Puna and Ka‘u, replacement fire trucks in Keaau and Honokaa, 12 new firefighter positions, two new lifeguards and six new lifeguard towers. A new Waikoloa shuttle bus route would be added as well as expanded service to Puna and two clerks, a mechanic and a mechanic’s helper for Mass Transit.
The Information Technology Department will receive a $300,000 boost for new network equipment. Three new IT positions will be added at a cost of $182,000 and training existing staff will take another $28,000.
South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford doesn’t think that’s enough to start bringing the county up to standards. She wants to add $937,921 to the IT budget for two additional system analysts and $435,900 in equipment. She also wants to add six more positions to the Prosecutor’s Office and a firearms registration clerk to the Police Department, according to her budget amendments.
But Ford opposes a property tax increase and has sponsored a bill that will be heard by the council’s Finance Committee at 1:45 p.m. Tuesday. It would cut the county’s past-due tax backlog from three years to two years before foreclosure actions are taken as a way to recoup money currently owed to the county. With a $17 million backlog in unpaid property taxes, that could add a minimum $5 million to the budget without raising taxes, she said.
Property with a net taxable value of $250,000 would get an annual tax bill hike of $150, under Kenoi’s proposal.
On average, property taxes would go up by $341.88 in the residential class (second homes and rentals), $417.48 for commercial, $560.88 for industrial and $870.48 for hotels and resorts, according to Finance Department calculations. Although the tax rate would increase for conservation land, property owners would actually see an average $75.12 annual decrease because property values continued to decrease last year.