Chip, chip away

KAPAA — Providing quality service under a balanced budget is the goal.

Kauai County officials say they’re hashing out their proposed fiscal year 2016 budget with both of those components in mind, but with collective bargaining raises coming online, that task has been difficult — and will require that some positions go unfilled.

“We expect to hear complaints,” said Nadine Nakamura, county managing director, during a budget presentation Saturday to the Wailua-Kapaa Neighborhood Association at the Kapaa Public Library. “The services will be reduced. The services that you’re used to won’t be there.”

The $181.7 million plan includes the elimination of seven vacant positions — lost either through attrition or retirement — and a reduction in funding for around a dozen more. It’s part of the county’s goal to cut $8 million from the budget to balance the books, which they’re zeroing in on with reductions in operational expenses, workforce adjustments and projected hikes in real property tax revenues.

“This is really the plan we did,” Nakamura said about cutting across the board, rather than focusing on one department. “We’re going to spread it around. Everyone takes a hit.”

The mayor’s administration will present its budget to the County Council on May 8.

No new taxes are proposed for the budget, which starts July 1. The County Council rejected a $0.005 per pound increase in the vehicle weight tax that was proposed in Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.’s original budget proposal earlier this year. The increase would have gone into effect Jan. 1, 2016, and was estimated to generate $1.6 over two fiscal years.

But the council rejected it last month.

“It is, to me, more regressive than the General Excise Tax because everybody has a car whether you’re on welfare or rich — you need it to go to work,” County Council Vice Chair Ross Kagawa said last week. “I think there comes a time when the council has to do that job and say, hold off. You can’t just raise any kind of tax or fee and put the blame on the inability to resurface roads.”

A big part of the increased budget costs are due to collective bargaining raises — around $7.7 million for the proposed 2016 plan and $9.8 million in 2017.

“It’s quite a challenge going forward,” said Ken Shimonishi, finance director. We have “some tough work ahead.”

Part of the cuts to help make it happen include holding off on buying new vehicles — and even selling off 10 rigs — as well as a $113,000 reduction in travel expenses and removing vacation day payouts for employees, which helped save $600,000.

But rising property values dovetailed with real property tax measures approved by the County Council last year, including the addition of two new tax classes, is projected to bring in about $5 million in additional revenue, according to current budget projections.

Balancing the budget was made difficult after the county didn’t increase taxes during the recession years.

Around 30 people attended the presentation. Members of the mayor’s administration are traveling across the island to share their financial strategy with different neighborhood and community organizations.

“I think they’re working really hard to get things under control,” Kappa resident Sally Anson said after the meeting. “We were hit really hard by the economic decline in ‘08, ‘09, ‘10. We have a lot of catching up to do.”

She said that collective bargaining raises were worth the effort to trim the budget in other areas to balance the books.

“When you need a fireman you want them to be well-trained and well-compensated. Same with police,” Anson said. “Professional employees is what makes this community work.”

Kim Kain, of Kapahi, agreed that the county is taking the budget seriously, and trying to cut where they can. But, she said, the county would save money by not offering healthy retirement benefits.

“It’s just not fair,” she said. “From now on, when you get hired by the county or the state, you (shouldn’t) get a retirement package — just like everyone else who works.”

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