Proposed budget seeks higher dump fee at landfill

Mayor Bryan Baptiste has submitted the budget to the Kaua‘i County Council for approval. The proposed $139.4 million operating budget is only 6 percent above the current budget. Baptiste also forwarded a $66.6 million capital improvement budget.

Perhaps the biggest change in the Baptiste budget — sent to the council on March 15 — was his request to increase the tipping fee of $56 to $80 for every ton of garbage or debris dumped at the Kekaha Landfill.

Residents often demand government keep down the cost of operations, but Baptiste said in this instance, the proposed increase is justified.

During the past 11 years the fees have remained the same, solid waste management service costs have increased about 86 percent, from $4.9 million to $8.9 million, he said.

The increase is presumably tied to the handling of more solid waste on an island that has seen upbeat growth over the past 10 years.

Increasing the fee will generate $1.1 million in additional revenues, Baptiste said.

In a way, the county has not been punitive by not establishing a new rate, Baptiste indicated.

An analysis to determine the cost of disposing municipal waste at the landfill revealed a cost of $82.26 for the disposal of a ton of debris.

The county’s general fund has subsidized solid waste management operations for years, and in the next fiscal year, it will subsidize nearly $7 million in solid waste expenditures, Baptiste said.

Efforts were made to keep costs down in the operating budget, Baptiste said, but the proposed $8.2 million increase from the current budget is necessary to cover “fixed costs” that are generally beyond the county’s control.

This year they include increased employee salaries and benefits, federal and state mandates for public service, charter amendment changes — including funding a new county parks and recreation department — and debt services.

The council, which officially received Batiste’s budget message and proposed budgets late Thursday, will put the bills up for first reading, hold budget hearings with department heads, schedule a public hearing and refer the matter to its Committee of the Whole.

To allow for the full budget process to unfold procedurally, the council has to pass it by June 7. If no action is taken by then, Baptiste’s budget submitted Thursday becomes law.

The budgets have to be in place at the start of the new fiscal year, July 1, according to the County Charter. In place is a $131.2 million operating budget and a $58.7 million capital improvement budget.

The mayor also states the budget increase is tied to creating a new parks and recreation department and providing additional administrative support for county boards and commissioners, as required by charter amendments approved by voters last November, Baptiste states.

In total, the fixed cost items accounted — wages and benefits, utility and service debts — for 78 percent of the proposed $8.2 million budget increase, Baptiste said.

Of the remaining $8.2 million, $1.8 million will be used to build more affordable housing, a key goal for the Baptiste administration.

And the county is likely to see more money come into its coffers, with net real property tax revenues expected to increase $7.3 million over this fiscal year to $84.2 million, Baptiste said.

Net real property tax values have increased by about $2 billion from $16.9 billion to $19.8 billion in fiscal year 2008, he said.

Of the increase, about $313 million, or 16 percent, is tied to new buildings and new lots. Some of the other increases are apparently tied to improved values of existing homes.

The county could receive more revenues, but Baptiste said residents continue to pay smaller property tax bills thanks to tax-relief measures he and the council approved in past years.

The permanent home use program, the long-term affordable rental program and a circuit breaker program have produced $15.5 millions in tax savings to property owners this year, with the biggest beneficiaries being those who live in their homes and own them, he said.

Another high-priced ticket item is Baptiste’s request for $1.8 million to continue to build more affordable housing.

Baptiste also said his administration is committed to delivering the best services possible and keeping costs under control.

Since he became mayor more than four years ago, Baptiste said his administration has taken a “back to basics” approach to overcoming years of deferred maintenance of county facilities, equipment, roads and bridges.

To that end, he said, his administration has prioritized projects and moved on them one at a time.

“I am proud to say that this philosophy has enabled us to complete projects that had been on the backburner for years,” he states.

Baptiste said 24 miles of county roads will be resurfaced in the current fiscal year, and that his administration is proposing to nearly double the funds in next year’s budget to continue the work.

Equipment also will be replaced, along with requested funds to the council to install a sewer line from Salt Pond Park to the veteran’s cemetery in Hanapepe, ensuring the preservation of the Hawaiian Salt Ponds.

The improvement also will lay the foundation for future development, he said.

Another $1.8 million has been allocated for work that has been postponed for years — including roof repairs at the Louie Gonsalves Pool in Kapa‘a, Lihu‘e fire station and buildings at the Wailua Houselots Park and interior and exterior painting of the Hanalei police and fire station and the Wailua Golf Course facility.

Part of the $1.8 million allocation includes $50,000 to hire a contractor to remove debris at the Lydgate Park ponds.

Also to comply with a directive from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baptiste said his administration plans to hire a three-member crew to maintain levees at the Waimea and Hanapepe rivers.

Once the levees are brought into compliance, the new employees would provide regular maintenance of these facilities and support efforts of other county Public Works crews.

Baptiste also said, in light of ongoing drownings, he has asked the council to approve funding to hire a water safety supervisor to help increase ocean awareness and to provide support for water safety officers.

More funding also has been requested to hire new firefighters to man the Kapa‘a fire station — planned off Kuhio Highway at the northern end of Kapa‘a town — when it is built, he said.

Baptiste also asked the council for funding to continue the work of developing the master plan for Vidinha Stadium in Lihu‘e.

Baptiste’s administration also is proposing to add another $7.3 million from the county’s general fund for capital improvement projects.

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