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Property values soar 21 percent

LIHU’E — Members of the Kaua’i County Council Wednesday officially received a $131.5-million annual operating budget Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste has proposed to improve emergency-response services, to update the county’s information system to improve public services, and to expand the public-bus system service, he said.

The proposed operating budget for fiscal year 2006-07, beginning July 1, is 7.6-per-cent, or $9.3 million, more than the current $122 million budget, Baptiste said in a budget message sent to Kaua’i County Council Chairman Kaipo Asing.

However, the bulk of the proposed increases, about $8.2 million, relate to fixed costs, meaning wages, benefits, utilities, and replacement of equipment for the county, Baptiste said.

The larger proposed budget stems from more projected revenues, mainly in real-property taxes, to the county, Baptiste said.

This year’s real-property assessments reflect a 21.4-percent increase, raising real-property assessed values from $14 billion in the current fiscal year to a projected $17 billion for fiscal year 2006-2007.

But the potential impact of higher assessments has been mitigated by real-property-tax-relief programs, Baptiste said.

Millions of dollars worth of exemptions have been given to folks who live in their homes and own them, and those who own but rent out their properties, he said, through a permanent-home-use bill, a long-term, affordable-rental program, and a circuit-breaker credit program.

For the current fiscal year, county officials received real property revenues of $66.7 million, and is anticipated to receive $75.4 million in the next fiscal year, representing an $8.7-million increase.

Of that amount, $6.9 million represents new revenues generated by construction projects and new land sales, Baptiste said.

County leaders also are moving forward with “E-Gov,” representing the future of “government interfacing” with members of the public.

That, for instance, means county bills may be paid online with credit cards, saving residents time and money.

Members of the council, meeting at the historic County Building on Rice Street in Lihu’e, received the proposed operating budget and a proposed $57-million capital improvement budget for fiscal year 2006-2007.

Baptiste said those drafting the budget sought continuously to “minimize additional expenditures and ensure that any new services would be delivered cost-effectively.

“Thus, the budget we are proposing essentially reflects a philosophy of status quo to offset increases in fixed costs in both the general and special-fund expenditures,” Baptiste said in his written budget message.

As part of the projected $9.3-million budget increase, Baptiste is asking for another $1.1 million for the improvement of public services.

The improvements include additional finding to:

  • Expand the hours of operation and service areas of The Kaua’i Bus. This is necessary as “traffic congestion on our roadways remains a vital concern,” Baptiste said;
  • Address 57 various system improvement projects of the Kaua’i County Finance Department’s information technology systems, including strengthening the geographic information systems (GIS). The GIS helps Kaua’i Police Department officers and Kaua’i Fire Department firefighters quickly identify emergency sites, and has been used in aerial assessments. Baptiste said the system proved to be invaluable in the government’s response to the March 14 flooding from the Ka Loko Reservoir in Kilauea that led to three deaths and four persons missing;
  • Upgrade the main software and work processes of the HTE/Enterprise system;
  • Improve the county’ computer-aided dispatch and records management system (CAD/RMS). It is a computerized, emergency-dispatch and record-keeping system;
  • Expedite the searching and reviewing of documents through digitization of them;
  • Expedite the county’s permit process by using informational-technology processes.

In drafting the proposed budget, county leaders faced the challenge of wanting to keep the budget down, but also address the public demand for improved services, Baptiste said.

In addition, Baptiste is asking council members to approve a capital-improvement budget of $57 million for the next fiscal year.

About $40 million in bond-float funds, which are carried over from an ordinance approved by members of the council last year, would be used for, but not limited to:

  • Establishing a regional park at Salt Pond Park, a proposal that is before the council now;
  • Renovating the Waimea Swimming Pool, a project that is poised to get underway;
  • Building a second fire station at the north end of Kapa’a town. The existing one is located in Waipouli;
  • Renovating the historic County Building;
  • Making improvements to Maluhia Road in Koloa;
  • Finding a solution to the solid-waste problem;
  • Making improvements at the Lihu’e County Park baseball field;
  • Planning, designing and constructing a second phase of the Kekaha Gardens residential project;
  • Constructing a new maintenance building at the Wailua Golf Course. A previous one burned down;
  • Supporting the development of more affordable-housing projects;
  • Setting aside funds to acquire land for public use.

In addition, members of the Baptiste administration are proposing the use of $300,000 to implement a development plan for the Waimea and Kekaha area.

Also, county leaders are proposing to use $2.29 million to resurface 20 miles of county roads.

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