LIHUE — About three months after announcing a six-month freeze on filling new vacancies in county jobs, the administration is changing course.
Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. was advised by Ken Shimonishi, finance director, on July 6 to re-consider the moratorium.
During his State of the County Address in March, Carvalho said the administration wasn’t planning to fill empty jobs starting July 1 for six months.
He also said he will not be asking to fund new positions for the upcoming fiscal year.
But, based on Shimonishi’s recommendations, Carvalho decided to lift the moratorium on vacant positions on July 24. He informed his cabinet that same day, said Sarah Blane, chief of staff.
The administration’s decision will be discussed Wednesday at the Budget and Finance Committee.
The topic was put on the agenda by Council Chair Mel Rapozo, who requested that Carvalho, Shimonishi and Wally Rezentes, managing director, be at the meeting to provide their reasoning.
After the start of the new fiscal year, Rapozo said it “became clear” that the moratorium did not go into effect.
“And we (were) never informed that the freeze never occurred,” Rapozo said. “I am asking the administration to explain the reasons to the council, and to explain how they plan to fund the salaries for six months.”
In May, the council approved a $201 million budget for FY 2017-18. When the administration proposed the budget, it came in at $204 million and proposed a 19-cent increase in real property taxes, which would pay for road repair and maintenance projects.
Because the property tax increase would have raised $3.6 million, councilmembers were trying to find that money within the budget.
In a July 26 memo to Rapozo, Shimonishi outlined the reasons to lift the vacancy moratorium.
One of the justifications is that by the end of the year, the county will see a growth in the general fund balance, like it has been seeing over the last two years.
They came up about $1.5 million short. So they voted to take that money from the reserve fund.
“Despite the council’s decision to utilize a portion of the reserve to balance the budget, I anticipate this growth will allow the 30 percent reserve target to be met with excess funds being available,” Shimonishi said in a memo.
There is $40.7 million in the general fund, he said.
Another reason for lifting the freeze is that some of the positions will need to be filled no matter what because they are grant funded and safety positions, Shimonishi said.
“If certain positions are exempt from your policy while others are not, it could be unfairly perceived as favoritism,” he said.
The FY 2017-18 budget has the funds necessary to fill empty positions, he added.
“Any delays in filling vacated positions will add to an already lengthy hiring process, and could adversely affect the county’s ability to maintain current public service levels,” he said.
The Vacancy Review Committee was not involved in the decision. And taking away the moratorium will not effect the administration’s ability to propose future balanced budgets, Shimonishi said.
The committee meeting starts at 8:30 a.m. at the Historic County Building.