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Council should review budget carefully

Councilman Ross Kagawa said the words every taxpayer on Kauai should appreciate:

“It’s what do we cut and how do we cut.”

Kagawa was speaking in reference to Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr.’s proposed operating budget of $204 million for fiscal year 2017-2018.

That’s hefty spending plan — the highest in county history that we know of — one that is being billed as “structurally sound balanced budget.” We certainly do hope it’s structurally sound. If not, like a house that’s not structurally sound when it’s built, when storms roll in, the house will fall. So, it goes without saying the budget better be structurally sound.

Now, it could very well be that every penny of this proposed budget has been carefully vetted and is absolutely necessary. However, there is cause for concern that the county is spending too much when considering operating budgets of the past five years:

w 2010-2011 — $147.6 million

w 2011-2012 — $185.8 million

w 2012-2013 — $166.4 million

w 2013-2014 — $159.4 million

w 2014-2015 — $179.2 million

w 2015-2016 — $181.9 million

w 2016-2017 — $189.7 million

So, the 2017-2018 proposed operating budget is a $57 million increase over seven years ago, and $15 million more than last year. That at least is reason to pause and wonder why the county will be spending a record-high amount if this budget is approved, which it most likely will be, with perhaps a few slight reductions.

This budget also includes a property tax increase, and the General Exercise Tax may also be increased. The real property tax increase would generate $3.6 million and cost the owner of a $500,000 home about $95 a year.

If that spending plan is to be approved, there should be more specifics on where the money is going.

Now, the mayor and the county administration have said the reasons for the increased spending is basically a continued rising cost of doing business, and rising costs associated with paying the salaries and benefits of its 1,200 person workforce. How the counties in Hawaii negotiate the contract with union workers needs to be reworked, so each county is responsible for its own negotiations. This is a key point, as a majority of the county budget, about 75 percent, goes to taking care of its growing workforce.

For now, we would just point out that if the county council could review the budget and reduce it by 1 percent, that would save $2 million — and nearly eliminate the need to raise property taxes. We would maintain that raising taxes is not unavoidable with this proposed budget, but it would require some hard looks at spending — and making cuts where they can be made. It’s not unreasonable to believe that in a budget of this size, there are areas where spending could be reduced.

At the least, with a proposed tax hike, we should not be seeing raises for administrators and elected officials.

Again, we certainly applaud and appreciate the mayor’s dedication and commitment to Kauai and his work on this proposed budget. We are confident he and his team gave it 100 percent to put together a sound financial plan that will serve the citizens of Kauai well today and into the future — what the mayor called “to ensure long-term sustainability.”

Difficult decisions will have to be made in regards to spending money — and reducing spending, as well.

But we also believe that $204 million is a high figure that should be carefully vetted by the council and, as Kagawa said, make cuts where they need to be made and eliminate the proposed increase in property taxes.

Others have expressed similar views. Our recent online poll posed this: “Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr.’s proposed $204 million operating budget for fiscal year 2017-2018 is:”

The answers were:

Too much — 311

Too little — 43

Just right — 53

That’s nearly 80 percent opting for “too much.” The poll is not science, it is opinion. But it gives an idea of what folks are thinking about the proposed budget.

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