Deferral day at council
LIHU‘E — Wednesday was a good day for the Kaua‘i County Council to push decisions to another day, as all four bills worked by different committees were deferred to February.
The bills dealt with civil fines for zoning violations, relaxing permits for legitimate agricultural structures, revising shoreline setback calculations and creating a county rainy-day fund.
Bill 2457 would create a permanent reserve fund, based on 20 to 25 percent of the county’s actual operational budget for the previous fiscal year. The fund would have some restrictions as to how the administration would be able to dip into it.
Since 2007, the county has ended each fiscal year with more than $42 million in unused funds, always carrying it over to the next fiscal year.
In 2010, the surplus peaked at $68.8 million. In 2011, it dropped to $59.55 million, but it was still the second-largest General Fund balance to date.
Last year, the surplus dropped again, to $44.69 million. Still, it was the fifth-largest General Fund balance, as the 2008 surplus was $45.22 million, and in 2009 it was $54.14 million.
To be sure, at the end of each fiscal year, the administration uses some of the surplus and assigns it to cover shortfalls in expenditures. But historically, the assigned money has never been completely used, and what is left is returned back to the General Fund.
In fact, according to Councilman and Finance Committee Chair Tim Bynum, in the last 18 years, the county has used the assigned funds six times.
However, in the last two years combined, the county used nearly $25 million to cover expenditures. Before 2011, the last time the county had used the assigned funds was in 2002, when it used $2 million.
And with the current fiscal year ending June 30, county officials have already warned the council that there may be a roughly $21 million needed to patch operations.
Councilman Mel Rapozo said he would not support the bill in its current form. Since 2009, each year the administration has budgeted more operational expenses than it has budgeted in incoming revenues, according to Rapozo.
“We should not be budgeting a reserve fund and then creating a reserve fund,” he said. “That’s creating more opportunities to spend.”
Other council members, however, did not see the reserve fund as an extra burden. Instead, they said it would force themselves to be more strict while approving the administration’s budget.
“Because we are in this mode of not seeing the emperor has not clothes, we are moving toward a fiscal cliff,” Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said.
If the council puts a “very large reserve,” she said, it stops the large variances in the budget.
The committee deferred the bill to February to work on the details.
Bill 2439 proposes to create a special account where civil fines levied by the county Planning Department would be deposited, thus enabling the department to have funds readily available to carry out enforcement.
The department recently gained authority to levy fines through a different ordinance, which allows the collection of up to $10,000 per day for violations which have not been corrected after proper notice.
The new bill would keep up to $100,000 in this special account or fund, with the remaining of revenues spilling over to the county’s General Fund at the end of the fiscal year.
However, Planning Director Michael Dahilig told the council he has yet to collect one dollar from fines. The lack of new revenues is not because of a lack of enforcement, but rather because all those who were caught red-handed with a violation have complied so far, thus voiding the fines, according to Dahilig.
Rapozo compared this to showing up at a court date for a speeding violation and telling the judge “I stopped speeding,” to have the fine removed.
“We’re talking about 100 grand, and we don’t even have $1 dollar in fines,” Rapozo said.
But as Dahilig explained, when it comes down to zoning violations, the law allows the department to levy fines, but it also gives opportunities for compliance.
The council’s Planning Committee deferred the bill to work out some kinks, such as how many violation notices the department should send before actually levying the fines, and if the inspection should be carried by new county staff, independent contractors or firms.
Bill 2461 incorporates a detailed shoreline erosion study into the county’s shoreline setback ordinance. And piggybacking on that, the Planning Department is also making some proposals to change setback calculations in the law.
Dahilig said the general definition of a setback is the minimum amount of space between a lot line and the building line, basically a “no build area.”
In 2005, the county contracted the Coastal Geology Group, headed by Chip Fletcher, Ph.D., of the University of Hawai‘i, to study shoreline erosion rates on Kaua‘i. A draft was delivered in 2007, and incorporated into two previous ordinances.
In 2010, the $450,000 final study was delivered and incorporated into the current bill being proposed.
The 28-page bill has so many interconnected components that Dahilig compared it to a Rubrik’s cube; one moving part prompts many changes.
When the bill is finally ready, it will serve as the county’s tool to calculate how far from the high-water mark landowners will be allowed to build.
The council’s Planning Committee deferred to Feb. 20 the next discussion, and possible action, on the bill.
Bill 2460 would exempt from some permits certain agricultural structures, including barns, livestock watering tanks, non-masonry fences with restrictions, non-residential pre-engineered buildings with restrictions, aquaculture structures, shipping containers, greenhouses and other types of ag-related buildings.
One of the main problems that the Kaua‘i Farm Bureau and some local farmers have encountered in the proposed bill is a $40,000 spending-ceiling on one-storied buildings to receive an exemption, and a $35,000 ceiling on two-storied buildings.
KFB Interim President Jerry Ornellas said that conservatively, an 80,000-square-foot building would cost $80,000. The intent of the law is to allow farmers to build without cumbersome permits.
Ornellas asked the council to remove the cost-restriction or at the least double it.
The farmers, he said, would rather build something with integrity that could be insured, rather than building it cheaply. After all, he said, he survived two hurricanes.
But Council Chair Jay Furfaro said those restrictive values were set by state law, and he is not sure if the county can go around it.
The council’s Public Works Committee deferred the bill to February, when the county Public Works Department is supposed come back before the council with additional information.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.