LIHUE — The Kauai County Council unanimously approved a $201.5 million budget for fiscal year 2017-2018 Wednesday.
“If I could give ourselves a grade, I’d give us B- or C+,” said Mel Rapozo, council chair. “We were able to avoid tax and fee increases. But we could have made more cuts.”
Rapozo said the county faced its share of challenges during this budget season.
“There’s the size of the document. That’s a ton of pages we have to go through,” he said. “It’s not possible for us to go through each line item in time provided.”
He also said there were things the county couldn’t control, like a cut in shares of the Transient Accommodations Tax and the sunset of lifeguard liability, which he said will cost the county if someone gets sued.
A continued rise in the cost of doing business also made trying to balance the budget a challenge, Rapozo said.
“We don’t have control over it, but we have to budget them,” he said.
Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr. submitted a $204 million budget in March. But when he submitted his supplemental budget on May 5, it reflected a $600,000 decrease, bringing it to $203.5 million.
The supplemental budget took into account a cut in the counties’ share of TAT and not getting an advance of the General Excise Tax, which would have given the county $20 million a year to pay for highway and transportation improvement projects.
On May 12, the county council further decreased that number to $201.5 million, which is what was voted on Wednesday.
The $1 million decrease from the mayor’s supplemental budget was made possible by removing funds from the auditor’s office, which had an allocation of $504,000, and cutting an additional $100,000 to pay for performance audits.
Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said she didn’t agree with the way the auditor’s office was removed from the budget.
“We have removed it without the vote of the people,” she said.
The Office of Economic Development saw a $65,000 decrease and $400,000 in overtime for the Kauai Police Department was also removed.
The mayor’s original budget also proposed an increase in real property taxes, which was expected to generate $3.6 million.
But on May 12, councilmembers voted not to increase taxes, and instead to take money from the reserve fund to make up the $1.5 million difference between what the rise in property taxes would have generated and what they were able to cut from the budget.
While some councilmembers did not agree with tapping into the reserve fund, Councilman Derek Kawakami said it’s a reflection of what’s going on around the island.
“Dipping into the reserves reflects what our constituents do everyday with their budgets,” he said.
Working families are already taxed to the max, said Councilman Ross Kagawa.
“We’re worried about our reserve – when are we going to worry about the taxpayer reserves?” he said.
The council also approved a $13 million CIP budget.
Highlighted projects include improvements to the Vidinha Stadium baseball field, Rice Street crossing improvements, construction and design of sheltered bus stops, and upgrades to Anini Beach Park and the restrooms at Black Pot Park in Hanalei.
The budget is expected to go to Carvalho for his signature today. He has 10 days to take action on it.