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Mayor approves county budget

LIHU‘E — Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. on Thursday announced his approval of the $269 million budget for Fiscal Year 2012, despite criticizing the final version approved May 25 by the Kaua‘i County Council.

“This is the third time that, as mayor, I have proposed a budget and then worked with the council to come up with a final product we can all stand behind,” Carvalho said. “Of those three years, this has produced the more spirited discussions. This year has also produced a budget I cannot fully embrace.”

The budget comprises $83.23 million for Capital Improvement Projects and $187.97 million for operational expenses. The operating budget is $38 million, or approximately a 25 percent, higher than last year’s operating budget of $147.6 million. However, the mayor emphasized that the overall budget has grown only 4.4 percent since March 2009, or an average of 1.5 percent per year.   

The biggest increases have come from rising energy and personnel costs, Carvalho said. Personnel costs alone have increased 22 percent during the last three budget cycles, and the new budget reflects an additional $14 million for county employees.

Councilman KipuKai Kuali‘i has criticized Carvalho for creating five new positions half-way through the current fiscal year.

“Have new positions been added?” Carvalho said. “Well, more accurately, existing vacant positions have been filled.”

Each position, after adding salaries and benefits, will cost over $100,000.

The mayor said the added positions provide critical support for the Mayor’s Office, reduce claims and lost work time through a more focused risk management, allow for consistent outreach and planning for Civil Defense, effectuate planning for affordable housing projects and provide overall coordination of operations in Solid Waste and Wastewater programs.

“As mayor, I have been elected to make these decisions for the benefit of the people I serve, and I feel strongly that these were good and sound decisions,” Carvalho said.

He added that “it is fairly common practice throughout the county to occasionally redefine or upgrade a position when the needs of that specific department or agency change. Even Council Services has done this more than once in the past couple of years. So to paint these recent actions as extraordinary or unusual is not accurate.”

The mayor said he has also heard and read criticisms about the $21 million increase in the mayor’s supplemental budget, as reported by The Garden Island. Although “technically that was true,” it was not an “apples-to-apples comparison,” he said.

“My supplemental budget submittal actually cut $3.3 million from operating expenses that were proposed on March 15,” he said. “The difference was the addition of a new item on the budget — our reserve line item. The change was basically in renaming our unappropriated surplus and placing greater parameters around its issue.”

The May 5 supplemental budget submittal added a reserve fund of $26.26 million to the operating budget based on 22.5 percent of the current year’s actual operating expenditures.

The parts of the budget that was passed by council with which the mayor disagreed addressed five specific areas, including projects added to the Office of Economic Development, “which is already overflowing with high-priority projects,” he said. “The council provided funding — but not adequate human resources — to complete those new tasks.”

Comprehensive Economic Development Study

Of the six separate Comprehensive Economic Development studies requested by council last May, the mayor said his supplemental budget proposed to complete only two of them next year because OED’s limited staff.

“The council decided to add another four back in anyway, to the tune of $274,000, without any additional manpower,” Carvalho said. “At this time, we will be undertaking only those studies we feel we can reasonably manage and complete during fiscal year 2012, and those are for the agriculture and renewable energy sectors.”

Conflict resolution for energy projects

Without any discussion with the administration, he said, council provided OED with $25,000 for a Conflict Resolution Pilot Program Fund for Energy Projects.

“I know there is concern about the public process currently taking place regarding (Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative’s) proposed (hydroelectric) project,” Carvalho said. “I have spoken directly with David Bissell of KIUC and he has assured me that the communication effort and dialogue among the stakeholders will be improved.”

Kapaia Swinging Bridge

Council added $230,000 for the Kapaia Swinging Bridge, the mayor said, “even though I have clearly stated that I have no intention of pursuing this project with Count funds at this time, given its estimated cost of between $2 (million) and $4 million and the relative benefits it will provide the people of Kaua‘i.”

Carvalho said his position of not pursuing the project has not changed. “However, as I have stated before, I would be open to new information, including other sources of funding that might be identified and secured.”

Curbside Recycling Program

 Carvalho said he “very much” disagreed with Council’s move to eliminate funding to continue the curbside recycling program implemented earlier this year.

“I feel that $175,000 is well worth the investment in the grooming of the Lihu‘e and Puhi communities to be the model once the program fully rolls out,” he said, emphasizing that it was the wrong message for council to send about the county’s commitment to increasing diversion efforts in the coming year. 

‘Green’ affordable housing

He said he was extremely disappointed that the funding for the environmental studies for the “green” affordable housing project in ‘Ele‘ele was removed.

“Our Westside communities need affordable housing,” he said. “This project is envisioned to be multi-generational and will serve a variety of socio-economic groups. It will include Complete Streets and Safe Routes to School elements, recreational areas, community gardens, connectivity to the surrounding community, energy efficiency — in short, everything green.”   

Carvalho said he had every confidence that funding will be restored and the county will soon be holding public meetings on the project as part of the long-term, master planning process.

In conclusion, Carvalho said he feels that over the last three years, the county has been fiscally conservative, responsible and responsive, and has completed dozens of projects with minimal growth in operating expenses.

“While I acknowledge the Council’s choice to include new funding in their final budget, as mayor, I reserve the right to act or not act on various projects which I don’t feel are a priority (and) we don’t have adequate resources to complete or sustain,” he said. “There are important priorities, such as diversion and affordable housing, that we will pursue despite the council’s failure to fund.”

Fiscal Year 2012 starts July 1 and ends June 30, 2012.

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