Heu to county: spend more to improve services

A top Kaua’i County official has emphasized the importance of spending more money to improve public services in trying to convince Kaua’i County Council members to approve Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste’s larger budget for the next fiscal year.

Baptiste’s Administrative Assistant Gary Heu, in discussing Baptiste’s proposed $131.5 million budget with members of the council at the historic County Building earlier this week, said $1.1 million will be used for improving the operations of The Kaua’i Bus and buying new equipment to streamline and make more efficient other public services.

The proposed budget is 7.6 percent — or $9.3 million — more than the current, $122 million budget.

The larger budget anticipates increased real property-tax revenues mostly related to new construction and properties that were previously not assessed, and $1.8 million in additional real-property-tax increases, said Mary Daubert, the county’s public information officer.

Councilman Daryl Kaneshiro said the request for an additional $1 million to cover the cost of 32 new positions has triggered concerns for him and other council members reviewing Baptiste’s proposal. Kaneshiro heads the council’s Finance/Intergovernmental Relations Committee.

Kaneshiro said he would like to see the Kaua’i Police Department fill 23 vacancies for uniformed officers and seven or so guard positions before the council considers any more KPD requests for more positions.

In Baptiste’s proposed budget, there is funding for KPD officials to hire a new police officer — a sergeant — to conduct internal affairs investigations of the department, and to hire a clerk.

The Kaua’i Fire Department also wants to create another fire inspector position and a store-room clerk position.

“The mayor is asking for 32 positions, but there are some vacancies in some of the departments, and we have some concerns about that,” Kaneshiro said.

Kaneshiro also said hiring more people doesn’t seem to make much sense at this point because of improvements with the county’s information technology services.

With that being the case, the trend would be for government not to hire more people, allowing for the best use of county funds, Kaneshiro said.

Speaking on Heu’s behalf and explaining the rationale for the larger budget, Daubert said, “We asked for the $1.1 million for human resources to push forward some of the previous initiatives (advocated by Baptiste’s administration).”

Residents have criticized the mayor for the larger budget in this fiscal year, but the situation, county officials and Baptiste countered, has arisen mainly because of higher assessments.

Some residents, however, have raised questions about the way in which the value of land and the buildings on them have been determined by county assessors, and have called for a revamping of county assessment methods.

County residents need not fret about additional revenues bloating the county budget, Daubert said.

County leaders have the potential to receive $12.8 million in revenues in the next fiscal year, but Baptiste is recommending the funds be given back to residents in the form of real property-tax relief, Daubert said.

In explaining the breakdown of the proposed $9.3 million increase in the new budget, Heu said:

  • $5.8 million will be used to cover fixed costs, including wages, benefits and utilities;
  • $2.4 million will be used for other fixed costs, including the replacement of equipment. Daubert said the funds would be used, for instance, to replace old computers, to expedite services to residents, and to buy more gas-efficient vehicles;
  • $1.1 million will go to improve the public-bus system, partly due to need.

Baptiste submitted his proposed budget and a proposed $57 million capital improvement budget to members of the council on March 15.

The council has scheduled public hearings on the proposed budgets on May 3 at the historic County Building.

A public hearing on eight tax-rate categories is scheduled to be held at the same location on May 3.

The mayor has proposed the tax rates remain the same, according to a county representative. The council members will set the rates through a resolution.

Currently, the building tax rate for the homestead class, the lowest rates for people who own and live in their homes, is set at $3.44 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for the building, and $4 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for the land.

The rate for hotel class, the highest, is set at $7.95 for each $1,000 of assessed valuation of the buildings, and $6.95 for each $1,000 of assessed value of the land.

A supplemental budget from the mayor is anticipated, after the property-tax assessments are certified.

In accordance with the Kaua’i County Charter, the county’s budget for the next fiscal year has to be approved by June 30.

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