Budgets seek housing, solid waste funds

•Editor’s note: This is the final installment of a two-part story on the Kaua‘i County budget process. The first part ran in yesterday’s edition.

As Kaua‘i’s county budget for fiscal year 2007-08 continues its way through the Kaua‘i County Council, Mayor Bryan Baptiste, in late May, will have the option to veto it if he does not agree with the council version. If Baptiste does veto, the council, through proper procedure, can override the veto.

But as of now, the budget remain in the hands of the council.

Councilman Jay Furfaro offered these observations on some of Baptiste’s key priorities from the budget he proposed in March:

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 — five-year life span remaining on Kekaha Landfill and the millions it will take to close it and open a new one — and welcomes recommendations on solid waste disposal options, including a waste-to-energy project, from the consultant’s report, Baptiste said.

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 start 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 as determined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The median income on Kaua‘i for a family of four is estimated to be around $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 homes to pass them on to 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.

As to the issue of deteriorating roads on the island, 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 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 repaving 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 bonds, 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 likes 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 sees merit in 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 JetSki 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 the council may be looking at five water safety officers for Anahola Beach Park, where the administration was looking at possibly two.

With the creation of a Parks and Recreation Department through a charter amendment approved 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.

“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, and that, based on his calculations, the county will have a $15 million surplus going into fiscal year 2007-08.

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 requests.

“I think all of the department heads have been doing a good 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 needs 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.

Civil 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.

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

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