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Less money for open spaces

LIHUE — The County Council, by a 4-3 vote, reduced the amount of money it will contribute to a fund set up specifically to purchase land for public use.

Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr. urged the council to make the change to help balance the budget. The mayor proposed that contributions to the Public Access, Open Space, Natural Resources Preservation Fund be reduced to 0.5 percent of real property tax revenues.

In 2011, the amount that was earmarked for the fund was upped to 1.5 percent of the revenue generated from property tax collection, helping to raise the overall fund balance to $4.9 million. That money can be used to purchase land for public use, such as ensuring beach access, preserving historic sites and protecting environmentally sensitive areas.

With this change, the county will lower the amount it contributes to the account to 0.5 percent, which is the minimum required by the county charter. That means the county will contribute about $1 million less this year than it would at the higher level.

The mayor noted that even with the reduction, the county will still add more than $500,000 to the fund.

In his message, the mayor wrote, “This shift allows us to build our unassigned fund balance closer to the GFOA (Government Finance Officers Association) standard, which is critical in maintaining our favorable bond rating in light of a new bond float that will be necessary in FY 17 at the latest.”

Councilman Mason Chock agreed with the need to balance the budget, but he took issue with that mayor’s point about there being enough funds for land purchases.

“It’s taken forever to get the funds to a place where we can actually purchase something,” he said.

Chock added it will be difficult to negotiate to purchase properties if there isn’t enough money in the fund.

“Open spaces are important for a thriving community. People come here because of the beauty. That’s why they come here instead of Honolulu or Maui,” Chock said. “This is a matter of priorities.”

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said there are other ways to balance the budget.

“These are places that are close to the heart,” she said of the lands that are purchased by the fund. “The community has said this is a priority. If we are to make it a priority, we need to put funds aside so that they will be there when we need it. You make it a discipline.”

After a proposed compromise to reduce contributions to the fund to 1 percent of property tax revenue failed, Chock offered an amendment to cut funding for only one year, but that amendment also failed.

Voting in favor of the change Wednesday were councilmembers Ross Kagawa, Arryl Kaneshiro, KipuKai Kuali’i and Mel Rapozo.

Voting against were Chock, Yukimura and Gary Hooser.

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