LIHUE — Fixing roads, freezing county vacancies, raising property taxes and establishing a special reserve fund are some of Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr.’s goals for the coming fiscal year.
“In order for the county to achieve long-term financial sustainability, we must create a structurally balanced budget that looks beyond the current year,” he said.
On a sunny Thursday morning, an energized and passionate Carvalho gave his ninth State of the County address before about 200 people at the Lihue Civic Center, Mo’ikeha Courtyard.
The nearly 50-minute speech focused on explaining a proposed $204 million operating budget for FY 2017-2018, a $15 million increase over the current budget. If passed, it would be the county’s highest.
“Continuing to deliver desired services, while maintaining a structurally balanced budget is not without challenges,” Carvalho said. ‘The reality is such that the cost of government continues to grow as a result of collective bargaining and the rising cost of doing business continues to be a challenge.”
One way to combat the high cost of government is not filling county positions as people leave their jobs, Carvalho said.
He said he is not asking to fund new positions this coming year. Additionally, he is proposing a six-month freeze on filling new vacancies, effective July 1. The county employs about 1,200 people.
“In order to fairly implement this initiative, the decision to freeze and or allow hiring of vacant positions will be based upon a division as opposed to a departmental analysis,” Carvalho said.
That proposal is something Lisa Ellen Smith, who serves on the Committee for the Status of Women, supports.
“Reorganization to better utilize the departments will make it more efficient,” she said. “Efficiency is key.”
The county administration is also proposing to establish a reserve based on 30 percent of the prior year’s revenues.
“I am proud to say that this proposed budget is structurally balanced, while fully funding our obligations, and meets the minimum 30 percent objective, as set forth by our proposed resolutions,” he said.
If the resolution passes, there will be a reserve of $42 million.
“But our long-term financial viability means nothing if we cannot meet our present-day objectives, and we know we have critical concerns that need to be addressed,” Carvalho said. “Yes, people of Kauai, we hear you when you say fix our roads.”
This year, the administration is dedicating $6 million to fund road repair and maintenance. Officials also plan to use a portion of the funding to leverage an additional $6 million in federal funding to improve Maluhia, Koloa and Olohena roads.
“Let’s be clear, the county maintains 300 miles of roadway, with a $126 million backlog in maintenance costs,” he said. “But this dedicated funding will make a difference in addressing the most critical areas of road repair needs islandwide.”
The proposed budget will also dedicate $600,000 to maintain unpaved parking lots at county parks and beach park facilities, including Haena, Black Pot, Kealia and Nawiliwili.
The operating budget also proposes a 19-cent increase in real property taxes, which will generate $3.6 million in revenues. The proposed increase is necessary to generate funds for road repair and maintenance projects.
The mayor said the tax increase was “unavoidable” in order to provide essential needs and service and have a balanced budget.
“I understand the difficult decisions that lie ahead as we navigate toward providing an economic and financial outlook for our County that is better than it was the day we each took office,” he said.
The $14.3 million CIP budget for FY 2017-2018 includes improvements to Kapahi Bridge, the old Hanalei Courthouse, Lihue Baseball stadium, Kamalani Playground and Pu’uopae Bridge.
Smith said she was inspired by Carvalho’s vision.
“He answered questions about roads and parks,” she said. “He did a fantastic job.”
Mark Perriello, president of the Kauai Chamber of Commerce, said the administration has lofty goals set for the next year.
“Mayor Carvalho presented an ambitious plan and budget for 2018,” he said. “Part of his package includes a modest tax increase, which would not be necessary if the state Legislature released Kauai’s fair share of the revenue generated by the TAT.”
In the end, teamwork and collaboration will steer Kauai into the future, Carvalho said.
“Together, we are creating a community that seeks to provide healthy and resilient living, sustainability;. opportunity and encourages us to be good stewards of the land and our natural resources,” he said.