Council faces balancing act with budget

Good news: The Kauai County Council unanimously approved a $201.5 million budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year, and they did it without increasing property taxes. In fact, the council rejected a property tax increase proposed by Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr.

The council recognized that many citizens are struggling to pay their bills, to make ends meet, and they don’t need the burden of yet more taxes on an island where many are already taxed enough. We appreciate that the council declined a property tax increase that was expected to generate $3.6 for the county’s spending plan.

In the end, the council cut $2 million from the mayor’s budget plan.

And it was good to see the council made a few other reductions, as well. The Office of Economic Development saw a $65,000 decrease and $400,000 in overtime for the Kauai Police Department was also removed. We know the council put in many hours reviewing spread sheets and crunching numbers and we thank each member for their dedication and commitment to creating a balanced and sensible budget.

One concern, though, is the proposal to eliminate the auditor’s office to save $500,000, and cut another $100,000 that would have gone for performance audits.

With the highest budget in history for Kauai, it seems the auditor’s office is a sound investment to provide the checks and balances to be sure the taxpayer money is managed wisely. We’re not saying it won’t be. But we are saying the auditor’s office is a worthwhile safeguard when it comes to holding administrators responsible for the finances of their department.

We’ve all heard stories of money being mismanaged, embezzled or spent inappropriately. In most of these cases, any financial losses could have been avoided with a better accounting system that provided more oversight. Again, we want to be clear we’re not implying any county employees would misuse taxpayer funds.

The county has some of the finest people on its staff who excel at record-keeping and are just as committed as anyone to the best use of tax dollars. Do they really need an auditor to keep them on task? Perhaps not.

But an auditor’s office provides the oversight and accounting that can help remove any questions or doubts about the bookkeeping, particularly when we’re talking about a budget of $201.5 million. It’s money well spent.

The auditors office was removed, as Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura noted, without a vote of the people. The council didn’t reach out to the public, either, to ask for input on doing away with the auditor’s office. Though, one could argue, the council is elected to make such decisions.

Now, this budget is not a done deal yet. The mayor has 10 days to take action on it. He could sign off on it. He could veto it and send it back to the council.

He could decide there are betters ways to reduce the spending plan. We will wait and see what our mayor does.

In summary, we applaud the mayor, the council and staff for the effort they put into this budget that will provide all the necessary services for residents, while making key improvements and creating the best-possible Kauai. Setting a budget is never easy. It involves a lot of study and analysis and likely gave our elected leaders and administrators headaches and anguish.

One might think that if the council merely cut the budget another 1 percent, that would save another $2 million. Sounds easy. But slashing services and staff comes at a price not just for residents, but for the workforce. It means, ultimately, the loss of jobs, and the county is one of the largest employers on island, with many families, keiki and kupuna, depending on those jobs.

While we support this budget, we do question if eliminating the auditor’s office is the best way to save money.

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