Kekaha benefits fund upped

Two-day budget decision-making process ends

by Nathan Eagle – THE GARDEN ISLAND

The Kaua‘i County Council yesterday torpedoed some items on Mayor Bryan Baptiste’s proposed budget, particularly taking aim at projects and positions unlikely to be completed or filled by the end of next fiscal year.

But support for most of the administration’s initiatives accompanied the cuts and in a few cases the seven-member legislative body funded major increases.

The official breakdown of the budget decisions that the council made yesterday and Monday at the Historic County Building will be available later this week, County Clerk Peter Nakamura said. A final vote on the revised budget is expected in two weeks.

The mayor’s March 14 proposed operating budget was $155.7 million. His supplemental, filed Thursday, added $2.2 million in unforeseen property tax revenues.

The proposed capital improvement programs budget increased from $61.2 million in March to $65.2 million last week.

Council members slashed the administration’s plans to spend $150,000 on community gardens, saying a more detailed plan is necessary.

But they added $550,000 to the $100,000 the administration proposed in its supplemental budget for the host community benefits fund for Kekaha, which has housed the landfill for decades.

The lawmakers said this is a start and sends a message that the county understands the Westside community’s concerns.

Kekaha resident Bruce Pleas said the increased funding, which can be used for various facilities projects, surpassed his expectations.

“It’s going to be a long haul,” Council Chair Bill “Kaipo” Asing said. “Don’t expect any magic soon.”

Councilwoman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho had asked the council to approve $1 million for the host community benefits fund, but seemed satisfied with the compromise.

Beyond budget adjustments, local lawmakers aired concerns over the administration’s proposed bond float. Specifically, they noted the lack of a comprehensive plan for how the county would use the multi-million dollar loan.

The mayor’s supplemental budget message proposes increasing the debt service for the anticipated 2009 bond issue from $990,000 to $1.3 million. The administration provided a list of various projects, ranging from prefabricated bridges to skateboard parks, that the county could do with the money.

“I’m not sure this is the right time to go into more debt to take care of issues that are not absolutely necessary,” Councilman Mel Rapozo said. “It’s time to fix what’s broken.”

Councilman Jay Furfaro said he remains concerned about funding a bond float without having a detailed list and estimated costs of the projects.

“This is something we should be able to hold our feet firmly on,” he said. “If I was running my business and I’m asking to put $1.4 million on the side for amenities, assets and improvements … and at the time I’m not exactly sure what I’m borrowing it for … this is what drives my frustration.”

Baptiste’s administrative assistant, Gary Heu, said after the meeting that the suggested projects were provided to give the council “a flavor” of how the loan may be used.

“As we get closer to putting a bond float forward, the administration will work with the council to determine specifically what projects to put forward,” he said.

The council dollar-funded a proposed Black Pot Beach expansion project that the mayor’s supplemental budget had zeroed out to make room in the CIP fund for an $850,000 Lihu‘e development plan.

Heu said although the mayor remains committed to acquiring additional land and extending Black Pot Beach, the administration prioritized the development plan after seeing the $1 million allocated for the expansion sit for years.

The council’s decision to keep $1 in the expansion fund keeps the account alive should the project become possible and money available.

Councilman Tim Bynum said it is difficult to send the message that the county is serious about expanding the beach if the funds are cut.

As a whole, Heu said the budget process thus far has been on par and well-managed.

“You’ve got to give credit to the chair for the Committee of the Whole, Ron Kouchi, to manage a very complex and sometimes contentious environment,” he said. “It’s pretty much been the traditional back-and-forth give-and-take between the administration and council. Hopefully, we’ve ended up in a spot that both sides can live with that appropriately serves our community.”

A public hearing has been tentatively scheduled for May 28 so community members can provide input on the budget revisions and revenue side.

The council is expected to do its second and final reading of the budget the same day, formally approving what has been hammered out over the past two days.

The budget would then be transmitted to the mayor for his approval and he would have 10 working days to sign the budget ordinance or veto it.

Finalized dates for the rest of the budget process are forthcoming.

For more information, visit www.kauai.gov

• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or neagle@kauaipubco.com

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