Council OKs $189M budget

LIHUE — The Kauai County Council unanimously finalized the $189 million fiscal year 2016-2017 operating budget Wednesday.

It was notable that the council was able to approve a budget without a General Excise Tax increase, said Councilman Gary Hooser.

“Overall, we passed a good budget and did it amicably,” he said. “I’m most proud we were able to do this without raising taxes.”

But Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said the tax increase should have been part of the budget because it would have helped raise $100 million for backlogged road repair projects. The council recently voted 4-3 against raising the GET by a quarter of a percent.

“To make a dent in our road and bridge repair, we need $10 million a year,” Yukimura said. “Not putting that in the budget this year means road repair is basically unaddressed.”

Also, missing from the budget is a $60,000 project to expand the weekend bus service, Yukimura said.

“The one thing that saddens me about this budget is that we are leaving key needs unmet,” she said. “By doing so, our community will be hurt moving into the future.”

Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho, Jr. has until June 17 to take action — sign, veto or return without signature — on the budget bill. If he signs it, it will take effect July 1.

Council Chair Mel Rapozo, who is recovering from neck surgery, was excused from attending the meeting. He provided a written statement to the council, voicing his approval of the budget.

During the meeting, council members expressed hope that efforts made by the administration and other county leaders will get the island on track to having a healthy budget.

“This is my third budget, and in my first year, we were close to complete depletion of our reserves. But every year since then, we’ve been able to increase our capacity to break even,” Councilman Mason Chock said. “I think that we are becoming a healthy organization.”

“For the first time in years, we are presenting a balanced budget without the need to withdraw from unassigned funds,” Yukimura said. “It’s a sign the county budget is getting healthier.”

But despite those steps in the right direction, it’s important not to forget the residents, said Councilman Ross Kagawa.

“If we continue to keep in mind the poor and the struggling, the better off we’ll be,” he said.

It was keeping in mind the needs of the people that kept the council from passing an increase in vehicle weight tax or the GET.

“I could not support a tax that would harm our struggling families,” said Councilman KipuKai Kuali‘i. “Instead, we need to begin chipping away at the road repair backlog by finding budget savings and cutting costs.”

Kuali‘i suggested transferring $1 million generated from real property tax to the highway fund to pay for road and bridge repair.

”I want to ask the people to engage with us county leaders however you can and hold us accountable to do a better job with the budget,” Kuali’i said. “Demand better from us.”

The council also unanimously approved of the $17 million capital improvement project budget for fiscal year 2017.

Included in the CIP budget are a list of bridge repair projects. For this fiscal year, money was allocated to fix Kamalu, Anini, Kapahi, and several other bridges around the island.

Not getting GET funding should not impede the county from finishing projects, Kagawa said.

“There are bridges that are in jeopardy of falling, and not getting the GET is not an excuse to not getting things done,” he said.

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