Council’s focus taxes, Ka Leo O Kaua‘i

The Kaua‘i County Council approved the budgets for the upcoming fiscal year as well as new property tax rates yesterday following three hours of public testimony on items that did not receive funding.

In a unanimous vote, the council passed the $148.7 million operating budget and $67 million capital improvements projects budget. Both were approved by the council’s Committee of the Whole one week ago.

As part of the operating budget, the council voted 7-0 to pass a resolution establishing property tax rates for the fiscal year. The measure includes 5 cent reductions for buildings and lands zoned single-family residential, apartment, commercial, industrial, agricultural, conservation and hotel and resort. Homestead rates were kept the same due to existing county caps.

According to the council’s written budget message, real property taxes are beginning to slow after years of rapid increase. Regardless, the caps will remain for homeowners and rates for the other seven categories of properties were decreased to compensate for rising commercial tipping fees for the disposal of solid waste.

“The business community is disproportionately shouldering solid waste costs,” states the council’s message. It goes on to say that a 5 percent reduction in energy use has been targeted as a countywide goal as a means to compensate for rising expenses.

An estimated $5.2 million increase in fixed costs alone is expected for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Mike Dyer, a North Shore real estate agent, addressed the council at the meeting on the subject of revenue. He said the budget cannot be sustained — even this year’s — into the future without an increase in taxes.

“I’m afraid we’re heading for very, very choppy waters,” he said.

Many council members agreed that, continuing at the current rate, expenses would increasingly eclipse revenues. Councilmember Jay Furfaro noted some of the large expenses on the horizon such as pension and medical fund liabilities as well as the shearwater program.

Receiving the most attention during the hearing, however, was Ka Leo O Kaua‘i.

The mayor opened the public hearing by addressing the omission of funding for Ka Leo, a program he started years ago and which holds bi-monthly meetings in 14 areas of the island.

Baptiste said the program develops community by facilitating discussion among neighbors on local issues that concern them.

“If you don’t have a venue for this to happen, then you can’t build community,” he told the council.

But some members grilled the mayor on the program’s spending patterns and accomplishments.

Councilmember Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho said the administration failed to sufficiently defend Ka Leo and its benefits. She said every program considered in the budget process is asked to justify its use of county money, and not all worthy programs can take from the coffers.

“We do feel strongly about the program, but it’s the mayor’s responsibility to justify any allocation of funding,” Iseri-Carvalho said.

Baptiste said his staff prepared and distributed a PowerPoint presentation for the council on Ka Leo’s merits, but he did not speak to proven accomplishments at the meeting.

“I’m not sure where the expectation was not met,” he said.

Councilmember JoAnn Yukimura noted that additional information was requested from the mayor after the item had already been addressed in a previous budget meeting. Councilmember Tim Bynum, who said he was involved in Ka Leo for three years, added that there was no indication that councilmembers had concerns about the Ka Leo budget until recently.

“I think there was more than sufficient information to make a decision,” Bynum said.

In support of the initiative, he pointed to efforts such as graffiti busters and adopt-a-park.

On reinstating the funds, the council asked the mayor whether the program would fit in under the Parks Department umbrella. Baptiste said its functions are broad and it works best within his administration. The council responded that any action on the issue would likely take place in the form of a budget amendment after July 1.

Many who spoke at the hearing talked about Ka Leo, with the majority voicing support for the program.

Sandi Sterker, of Kalaheo, said she has worked with Ka Leo in her neighborhood since its inception. She told the council that the meetings are not a forum to air complaints, but rather a place for neighbors to collectively solve problems.

“We love having Ka Leo O Kaua‘i because it gives us a chance to have community,” she said.

James Trujillo, who has worked with Ka Leo, said its initiatives on CERT and access to open space have been valuable for the community.

“I applaud the mayor’s effort in trying to break down this barrier,” he said, grabbing hold of the gate between the council’s table and the speaker’s podium.

Speaking out against the program was Anne Ponohu. She told the council that the first priority should be funding critical services such as the police and fire department, and that neighborhood associations are better vehicles for local issues because they are independent.

Barbara Elmore also spoke against continuing Ka Leo. She said money for summits and meetings on drug prevention is a waste because they have failed to accomplish anything.

“You can do two things with other people’s money,” Elmore said. “You can spend it wisely or you can waste it.”

On the issue of wasting money, the council brought up the spending of $40,000 allotted last year to the administration’s anti-drug program. The program will not see its funding renewed because $11,000 was spent on lei, refreshments and travel in the current fiscal year.

Councilmember Mel Rapozo emphasized that the council could not continue to subsidize an inappropriate use of county funds at the expense of other services. He read a list of expenditures, which included movies, art projects and a Halloween carnival.

“This is not what that funding is supposed to be for,” Rapozo said.

Iseri-Carvalho agreed, noting that any federal fund for anti-drug programs would not have permitted such expenses. She also noted items that the mayor had neglected, which she and the council worked to fund, including $224,000 for lifeguards at the beach in Anahola.

Other issues addressed at the meeting included KPAL and the airing of public budget hearings on television. Unlike other council meetings, the budget process is not broadcast.

The lack of exposure elicited comments from residents about the importance of opening up the most important function of council to a larger audience.

Property tax rates

Building Land

Homestead $3.44 $4.00

Single Family Residential [4.30] 4.25 [4.00] 3.95

Apartment [7.95] 7.90 [6.95] 6.90

Commercial [7.95] 7.90 [6.95] 6.90

Industrial [7.95] 7.90 [6.95] 6.90

Agricultural [4.30] 4.25 [6.95] 6.90

Conservation [4.30] 4.25 [6.95] 6.90

Hotel and Resort [7.95] 7.90 [6.95] 6.90

• Blake Jones, business writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or bjones@kauaipubco.com.

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