We can all agree there are many challenges ahead this year for Kauai. Improving roads, increasing public transportation, protecting the environment, creating jobs that pay well, providing affordable housing, and building a strong, sustainable economy are on the list.
At the top of the list, perhaps the area that has the most impact on this island’s residents, is county spending. That’s why we encourage the county to heed the advice of Ross Kagawa, council vice chair: “We need to show the people of Kauai that we can control our spending. This is going to be a tough budget, but I think we have a new elected majority that feels the same. We’ve got to stop the continued growth of spending, and I think we’ll have no problems getting agreement, at least with four people, on that issue.”
The county is operating on a nearly $180 million budget, which included several increases in the areas of property taxes, vehicle registration and trash collection. When taxes go up, it hits Kauai’s residents, many who can least afford it, right in the pocketbook. Raising taxes should be among the last options for the county as it seeks to balance its budget.
In the county’s efforts to control spending, a place to start could be with its parks. The total spent in the parks and recreation department between 2013 to 2014 totaled $10.6 million. While parks are nice, enjoyed by thousands of residents and visitors, and Lydgate is a crown jewel, that seems like a lot of money for parks and recreation, especially in times when property taxes, for many, went up. The budget includes nearly $1 million for beautification. Parks maintenance alone accounts for nearly $4.5 million. Planning and development calls for more than $250,000 and another $500,000 for administration. There are about 40 park caretakers and more than 10 groundskeepers.
In tough times, with rising taxes and the economy here not exactly booming, perhaps the county should consider if it’s necessary to spend more than $10 million on parks and recreation. While parks are a wonderful asset that should be maintained, if reducing spending in parks and recreation could help keep property taxes in check, that’s an avenue that should be explored.
Parks and recreation is just one area where spending cuts should be examined. Reducing spending is hard because it usually means cutting back on services and reducing jobs. But it also means operating as efficiently and effectively as possible. For the county, control of its spending is perhaps more critical than ever.
There’s hope the county will control spending based on this comment by councilmember Arryl Kaneshiro: “Just based on the current financial crisis, we’re not in the best shape, so there’s going to be a lot of cost cutting. It’s hard to say, but I know we don’t have an overabundance of money, so it will be difficult.”
Councilman Mason Chock Sr. got it right when he said: “Key to a sustainable budget is to keep county spending to a limit and to increase our capacity and competency of our operations.”
Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and the rest of the County Council will have difficult choices to make when it comes to crunching numbers. They have tough decisions to make. Fortunately, it sounds like they already know what they have to do.