Officials ponder tax uses

Mayor Bryan Baptiste’s proposed $139.4 million operating budget and $66.6-million capital improvement budget are pending further review and certification of county tax revenues, said Council Finance and Economic Development Committee Chairman Jay Furfaro.

After the council received the mayor’s proposed budgets March 15, it held budget hearings from April 2 to April 9 at the historic County Building.

Members of the council are slated to receive the mayor’s supplemental budget before May 14, Furfaro said.

While the council hasn’t taken any official position on the budgets, Furfaro, who noted he was only voicing his observations, said the body should augment some of Baptiste’s key priorities. Such priorities include increasing the funding for affordable housing, accelerating the paving of roads, hiring more water safety officers and funding the repair of buildings for which maintenance has been for years deferred.

Furfaro also said he personally feels the government should take him up on an innovative idea to “grade” parks to make the best use of funding, resources and manpower.

Beside zoning matters, the council’s biggest job each year is to fashion multi-million dollar budgets that affect thousands of residents and visitors.

Council Chairman Kaipo Asing has pointed with great pride to having gotten unanimous council support on budgets of the past four years, but he declined to comment regarding this year’s budgeting process.

Although the council has yet to officially propose its budgets, the legislators and Baptiste have stressed the need for best use of funds, manpower and resources in the day-to-day operation of the county government.

Furfaro, who completed a two-year term as general manager of the Princeville Resort in March to work as a consultant, said the council’s budgets should be “the best possible product for the best cost.”

Whether any of Furfaro’s personal goals or those of other council members become a reality won’t be known until the council has completed work on an “expenditure cycle and a revenue cycle” Furfaro said.

Making presentations and requests for funding were department heads and top representatives from the Fire Department, the Office of Economic Development, the County Attorney’s Office, Prosecuting Attorney and Victim Witness Program, the Police Department, the Liquor Department, Personnel Department, the Civil Defense Agency, the Offices of Community Assistance, the County Clerk’s Office, the Finance Department, the Humane Society, the Planning Department and the Parks and Recreation Department.

That budget allows county officials to make revisions to the March 15 budget and takes into account the certification of the county tax revenues by the finance director and the clarification of available revenues.

The legislators can only act on the March 15 budget, which is part of the ordinance establishing the budgets.

The moment of truth comes May 29, when the council is scheduled to approve both budgets, set property tax rates. Upon receipt of the legislation, the mayor, in a timely manner, can approve or veto the budgets. If it chooses, the council an override the veto.

Furfaro offered these observations on some of Baptiste’s key priorities:

Baptiste has proposed increasing the tipping fee of $56 to $80 for every ton of garbage or debris dumped at the Kekaha Landfill. The intent is to reduce reliance on county funds to operate the facility.

Baptiste has said $7 million from the county’s general fund will be used to cover solid waste expenditures in the next fiscal year.

“The $80 is something that should be discussed more,” Furfaro said. “But I don’t think that is enough.”

Government should pay close attention to R.W. Beck’s consultant report on the updating of the county’s integrated solid waste management plan, Furfaro said.

“We have to be serious about the recommendations from R.W. Beck, because solid waste is a very expensive part of the county’s operating budget,” Furfaro said.

The county administration realizes the gravity of the situation — that of the five-year life span of the Kekaha Landfill and having to spend millions to close it and open a new one — and welcomes recommendations on solid waste disposal options, including a waste-to-energy project, because they have worked successfully in some Mainland communities.

While the mayor has proposed $1.8 million to build more affordable housing, Furfaro considers that too little, he said, basing his assessment on a recent county survey showing a shortage of 2,300 homes.

“Closer to $3.5 million is probably needed to address a good star for the 2,300 homes,” he said.

Of those homes, 1,100 are needed for lower-income residents. The other 1,200 units are to be built for residents who are not in the “affordable” category set by the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services.

The median income on Kaua‘i for a family of four is about $60,000.

“The county should focus its efforts on people who are below affordable,” Furfaro said. “And hopefully through the new housing policy (which is being developed by the council), developers will assist in fulfilling the 1,200 units.”

His hope, he said, is that people will be able to own those home so that they can be passed onto their children.

Furfaro said securing state lands is one of the keys for driving down home construction cost, and if the county can secure such lands, island home buyers will be much better off.

Baptiste has said 24 miles of county roads will be resurfaced in the current fiscal year and that he wants to nearly double the funds to continue the work.

Furfaro said the council essentially sees it the same way, and anything less will mean the county will have to pay even higher prices for oil — a commodity scientists say is slowly being depleted worldwide — for the resurfacing of roads in the years to come.

“The cost of re-paving is a casualty of the cost of oil,” Furfaro said. “Just having periodic re-paving will lead to quicker deterioration of the road, the foundation of the road. The integrity will be sacrificed.”

If repaying is accelerated, the county will be looking at “replacing, and replacing is more expensive,” Furfaro said

The mayor has proposed $7.3 million for capital improvement projects , but Furfaro said he would like to take the funding requests to the next level with help of the county Planning Department and Planning Commission in the future.

The county administration and the council can do a better job of identifying projects and funding them through adopted community plans, Furfaro said.

And with more growth, the county will most likely pursue other capital improvements and funding for them, Furfaro said.

“I think the county can be a little more bolder in floating some additional bond, because we have an excellent bond rating (partly due to healthy property tax revenues), thanks to the work of the administration and the finance department,” Furfaro said.

Furfaro does agree with Baptiste’s request for $1.8 million to address long-needed building repairs at the Louie Gonsalves Pool in Kapa’a, the Lihu‘e fire station, the Wailua Houselots Park, the Hanalei fire and police station and the Wailua Golf Course.

“The $1.8 million is a good start, but the key is the fact that we have had deferred maintenance since Hurricane Iniki (in 1992),” he said.

Furfaro also agrees with Baptiste’s request for a water safety officer supervisor to help increase ocean awareness and to provide support for water safety officers.

“At the same time, we should look at asking hotels to contribute … purchase a Jet ski or make payroll contributions to staff the beach,” he said. “They do it successfully at the Mauna Kea Beach and Hapuna Beach on the Big Island.”

Furfaro said asking Coco Palms to pay for a Jet ski for use at Wailua Bay and nearby areas would not be out of line.

“I would tell them ‘it is your responsibility as well that the water safety is a joint effort on protecting your guests as well as the public,” he said.

Furfaro said where the administration might be asking for two additional water safety officers for Anahola Beach Park, the council may be looking at five.

With the creation of a new parks and recreation department through a charter amendment proved by voters last November, Furfaro said he hopes the administration would support his idea of “grading parks” and providing appropriate manpower, funding and resources at individual parks. This grading of parks will result in more efficient use of county funds, Furfaro said

“We should spend more money on regional parks, for instance, because of higher demand,” he said. “We are moving forward with a park planner, and I think Mel Nishihara ( who has led the parks division for many years) has a great concept in history of our parks, and moving forward.”

Furfaro said the county’s financial health appears robust and upbeat. Based on his calculations, the county will have a $15 million surplus going into fiscal year 2007-2008.

Of that amount, $9 million could be tied to departments that “may not have reached their goals or kept a very tight belt (on spending),” Furfaro said.

The other $6 million may be tied to an increase in state transit accommodation taxes to Kaua‘i or revenues tied to new construction, Furfaro said.

For the most part, Furfaro said the department heads provided reasonable justification for their funding request.

“I think all of the department heads have been doing a god job of getting us information,” he said.

As public safety issues are of key concern, Fire Chief Robert Westerman said his priorities include maintenance and upgrades for emergency response equipment. Westerman’s ideas include $500,000 to replace an old fire engine, $51,000 to hire a water safety supervisor and $45,000 to replace 38 beds at all fire stations.

Civicl Defense Director Mark Marshall said a priority was administering and coordinating the U.S. Department of Homeland Security grants, which support emergency government workers.

Furfaro said the council has been moving through an “expenditure cycle” for the past two years. That has included assessments of new department positions and vacant positions, weighing possible financial impacts new regulations might have on county operations and a review of energy management options and capital improvement projects, including the impact from deferred maintenance of existing government buildings and projects, Furfaro said.

Once work for the expenditure cycle is completed, the council, Furfaro said, will launch into a revenue cycle, which starts after the certification of the tax revenue this month.

Furfaro said councilman Ron Kouchi, a former chairman and now chairman of the council Committee of the Whole, played an important role in leading the budget hearings in April.

“He brings a wealth of history, and his running the budget sessions spreads out the work effort by various (council) committees,” Furfaro said. “He has done a hell of a job.”

• Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or lchang@kauaipubco.com.

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