Council begins deliberating FY 2013 budget

LIHU‘E — Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. used a weather metaphor on Tuesday, the start of fiscal year 2013 budget talks that will continue through April 19, comparing the storms that pounded the island in early March to “weathering the storm” of providing services in a battered economy.

“With all branches and levels of government working together — along with the support of our local nonprofit agencies and the resilience and resourcefulness of our community at large — we were able to get through the challenges and move forward,” Carvalho said about last month’s storms.

“Since I have become mayor, it seems that the process of budgeting is likewise a challenge of weathering the storm,” he said. “We have been faced with not just maintaining, but improving services in the face of declining revenues.”

Carvalho said the economy has forced his administration to be conservative. “We have deferred equipment purchases, floated bonds, refinanced debt and created a reserve policy,” the mayor said.

“I feel strongly that we must start to wean ourselves off of the ‘temporary cuts,’ namely the dollar-funding of positions and the deferral of equipment purchases,” he said. Dollar-funded positions are unfilled council-approved positions held in place with one dollar.

The meeting turned tense as two council members began questioning the mayor about leaving issues they consider important out of his proposed budget that is now under review.

Council Vice Chair JoAnn Yukimura said she was “discouraged and upset” that she money was not set aside for a Materials Recovery Facility, which she said had been promised the last time the council met with the county’s Solid Waste Division. Yukimura said such a facility is not just about recycling; it’s also about increasing the life of the Kekaha Landfill.

Carvalho said, “we all agree that there’s a need for an MRF,” but that the timing is not right to request one.

“This is unbelievable to me,” Yukimura said, citing last year’s budget review sessions in which county administrators told the council progress was being made on the MRF.

Council Chair Jay Furfaro told Finance Director Wally Rezentes that it’s hard to talk about financial stability when the administration is proposing to take some $20 million from the reserve fund and a projected surplus to balance the budget.

Councilmember Tim Bynum told the mayor his administration has not proposed any changes in real property taxes for the upcoming fiscal year.

Bynum recently introduced a proposal to give additional tax relief to resident homeowners. But the measure was defeated by a 2-5 vote last week. Yukimura was the only one voting alongside Bynum. Other council members said they would like to give resident homeowners a break on their real property taxes, but this is not the time due to financial instability.

“Do you acknowledge that in the last three years resident homeowners have paid more than $4 million in increased property taxes and fees?” Bynum asked Carvalho. The mayor replied yes.

“Is that OK with you?” Bynum asked Carvalho. The mayor said he had already discussed the issue with Bynum on numerous occasions.

Bynum repeated the question twice more, and the mayor repeated his answer until Furfaro called for a 10-minute recess.

When Carvalho returned, he said now is not the time to ask for tax relief.

Besides, the mayor pointed out, it was the County Council that defeated Bynum’s tax relief proposal.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.

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