Council sends final budget to mayor

LIHUE — The Kauai County Council finalized the budget on Wednesday without making any changes to the version that was previously approved in committee.

The council also finished work on a controversial B&B permit bill, approved the long-debated Lihue Community Plan, and started work on a new proposal to help the county recoup some of the costs incurred from conducting search-and-rescue operations.

It was a productive day.

The final budget approved by the council cuts about $314,000 from the amount the mayor recommended for the upcoming 2016 fiscal year. More than half of that reduction comes from the council’s decision to eliminate funding for the North Shore shuttle; the county will also save money by eliminating vacant positions and county support for the Keiki-to-Career program. That program will still receive funds from the state.

Despite these cuts, the final budget approved by the council is only 0.17 percent lower than the $182.2 million the mayor asked for, and is still an overall increase compared to the $180.7 million budget for the current fiscal year that ends on June 30.

Expenses outweigh revenue, meaning the county will need to dip into its reserve savings to the tune of $1.4 million to balance the budget, largely due to increased costs from recently approved agreements with the county’s public employee unions.

Even though there were several tense exchanges during the May budget decision-making process, the final budget nearly passed with unanimous support: six councilmembers voted in favor. Councilmember Gary Hooser voted against the operational budget because it holds the property tax rate static.

He argued that even though the property tax rate is staying the same, higher property valuations will result in many homeowners paying higher taxes.

The budget now goes to Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr. for his signature. The 2016 fiscal year begins July 1.

B&B bill approved

The County Council on Wednesday also finalized a bill that more strictly defines what constitutes a homestay (commonly known as a bed-and-breakfast or B&B) to ensure that a property owner actually resides on site. County officials argued the change is needed to prevent owners of illegal Transitory Vacation Rentals from exploiting a loophole in the current definition that could potentially allow them to get permits to operate legally as a B&B.

Key to that change is eliminating a provision in the current law that allows a lessee to operate a B&B. County officials said the current law could allow non-residents to run a B&B by allowing a tenant who lives on site to operate it.

The final bill also limits the number of permit applications that can be reviewed by the Planning Commission per year to no more than 10. No changes were made to the final bill from the version that was approved in committee last week.

The measure passed six to one, with Hooser again being the lone vote of opposition. Councilmember JoAnn Yukimura did not cast a vote, but under council rules if a member is not excused and is present but does not cast a vote it counts in the affirmative.

The bill now goes to the mayor, who has 10 business days to decide whether to sign or veto.

Lihue Community Plan approved

Councilmembers unanimously voted to approve the Lihue Community Plan. The strategic document, which is meant to serve as a long-range planning guide for county land use, calls for eventual construction of a Lihue bypass road.

The Lihue bypass road would be on the mauka side of Kuhio Highway and is intended to ease congestion through town. Yukimura expressed concern the plan does not adequately take public transportation needs into account, but she ultimately voted for it.

“Without a traffic circulation plan, we won’t be able to solve our traffic congestion,” Yukimura said.

Councilmember Arryl Kaneshiro recused himself from the vote because he is employed by Grove Farms, which has land holdings that could cause a potential conflict of interest. The bill now goes to the mayor for his signature.

Chock proposes bill

Councilmember Mason Chock proposed a plan to help the county recover a portion of the money it spends on search and rescue operations.

If approved, Bill 2589 will amend the Kauai County Code by expanding the definition of “recoverable expenses” to include fuel costs incurred during a rescue.

The council will hold a public hearing on the bill July 1. It will then go to the public safety committee.

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Ryan Kazmirzack, government reporter, can be reached at 245-0428.

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