Baptiste unveils his version of county’s 2003/2004 budget

Mayor Bryan Baptiste sent to the County Council yesterday a proposed $95.2 million budget for the next fiscal year.

Baptiste is also proposing a $17.7 million capital improvement project budget for the county.

In May 2002, the council approved a $90 million operating budget and an $18.4 million capital improvement budget for the current county fiscal year.

Budget increases are tied to increases in collective bargaining, the government retirement system and insurance premiums.

In a correspondence to council chairman Kaipo Asing, Baptiste said developing his first budget has been daunting.

In looking at department proposals weekly, his administration has been “faced with maintaining existing programs and needs while also trying to grow as we look to the future,” Baptiste wrote. “With a limited amount of resources, this is not an easy commission.”

In preparing the budget over the past few weeks, his administration has striven to “keep controllable costs stable from fiscal year 2003 and stay with a flat budget,” Baptiste wrote.

In past years, the county has met challenges stemming from the “financial roller coaster of revenues and expenses,” Baptiste said.

However, his administration “must focus on where we are now and where we will go from here,” Baptiste said.

In his message he noted:

  • The general fund is projected to increase from $54.9 million to $57 million, but the revenues are still not enough to cover the rise in fixed costs.
  • Real property assessments have increased over the past year, and valuations are expected to increase 7.6 percent in the next fiscal year, in consideration of exemptions and appeals.
  • The county will lose revenues through the implementation of the Circuit Breaker tax credit bill that was recently approved by the council.

    The bill allows homeowners to remain in their homes as valuations of neighboring properties have spiraled due to high sale prices or repeat sales.

    Implementation of the tax credit program, for which homeowners must apply, will decrease revenues by $65,000.

  • Implementation of the Right of Way Access charter amendment approved by voters last year is expected to decrease revenues by $225,570.

    The charter amendment sets aside portions of real property revenues for the county to use to acquire lands for preservation. The revenues also can be used for public purposes.

  • Overall, projected real property revenues for the next fiscal year will increase by $3.3 million over the current fiscal year, marking a 8.1 percent change.

    The figure is only a slight increase from the previous year, staying consistent with projections for this current year, Baptiste said.

  • Related to tourism, the county anticipates its share of the state’s transient accommodation tax revenues to grow to $11. 8 million, up $200,000.

The increase, Baptiste, said is contingent on the tax revenues to Kaua’i remaining the same.

At the same time, Baptiste said the county will face fiscal hurdles in the next budget:

  • The county’s contribution to the government employee retirement system will increase by $1.7 million.
  • Collective bargaining increases will kick in on July 1. However, the impact of the increases is not known at this time and is not included in the budget, Baptiste said.
  • Health care costs will rise to $7.4 million, an increase of $650,000.
  • Insurance premiums will increase a minimum of $210,000, a 10 to 15 percent rise.

In spite of the fiscal challenges, Baptiste said his administration is taking steps to use county resources in the most prudent way.

In an attempt to bring the county government “back to a common sense, business-like approach,” the administration has created a system that will allow for the replacement of equipment to be included as fixed cost in the proposed budget, Baptiste said.

Baptiste also said in addition to regular maintenance, public bathrooms will be power-washed.

The public restrooms should be kept up to the “highest standards” for residents and visitors, Baptiste said.

As a way to move away from paying consulting fees, his administration has proposed adding three new positions to the county’s Information Systems division. One position would be permanent and the two others would be temporary.

Also, on July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year, the division’s name will change to Information Technology to reflect its scope of work.

Baptiste also noted other ways his administration will be operating more effectively in the next fiscal year:

  • Community response teams will continue to operate to find out what is important to residents and how to resolve issues.

    The teams are anticipated to enhance the effectiveness of the county Office of Economic Development.

  • Connected with the tourism work of Office of Economic Development, the administration is proposing marketing dollars for the promotion of Kaua’i to be granted to an organization with expertise and experience in tourism “to do the best job possible.”
  • Hiring a drug coordinator.
  • Taking a position from the county Finance Department and converting it into a grants coordinator. Down the road, a grant-writing division could be created.
  • Putting the county’s Division of Parks and Recreation under the county Office of Community Assistance.

The county department will house all county programs for youths, the elderly and public, to provide the best services for the community, Baptiste said.

“This brings about the opportunity for intergenerational activity coordination to share the best our kupuna have to offer for our greatest resource … our children,” Baptiste said.

The divisions under the Office of Community Assistance will be moving to the old GEM’s building at the Lihu’e Civic Center, a move to provide services in a centralized location.

The council is scheduled to begin holding budget hearings with department heads this spring, will set property tax rates, and, by law, must pass a balanced budget by June 30.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net

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