LIHUE — The Kauai County Council has refrained from making public comment on the 2019-2020 fiscal year budget throughout the budget process, which started in March. But on Wednesday, councilmembers were allotted 10 minutes by Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro to voice their thoughts about this year’s budget during the bill’s second and final reading.
The council voted 6-0 (without councilmember Felicia Cowden who was not in attendance due to a trip in Volgada, Russia) to accept the 2019-2020 budget that will have a $242 million operating budget.
“The only cuts that we had, $111,000 of a $242 million operating budget,” Councilmember KipuKai Kuali’i said of the cuts made to the budget throughout the formulation process, pointing out that equates to less than 1 percent.
Kuali’i added that he wished the council could have provided additional funding to the Kauai Humane Society, likening it to an investment that will save money in the future.
Councilmember Luke Evslin thanked Kuali’i for his hard work throughout the process as well as Vice Chair Ross Kagawa for bringing up the issue of “spiking.”
“Nobody brought more attention to that (spiking) than councilmember Kagawa and I think it is important that we break that paradigm,” Evslin said.
Evslin added that it’s important that the depth of the housing crisis be recognized.
“We have one in six houses owned is a TVR (transient vacation rental) and we have a large number of vacant homes and I recognize there’s problems with the residential property tax rate, but I do think that we need to do more to discourage those activities through property taxes. And on the other side of it, we also need to put more money toward public housing,” he said.
Councilmember Mason Chock said the budget process is becoming a little more streamlined and that after five and a half years on the council, he had a few takeaways from this year’s budget.
“Our job is to try and figure out how to not increase the budget as much as possible, that the biggest expenses and increases come from our salaries, so we need to be able to continue to focus on that,” Chock said. “We run into this big problem about how we engage with that decision process because that’s really not within the council’s purview. We’re not at the discussion, we’re not at the decision-making table as it relates to how these increases occur.”
Chock added that it has been very difficult, in his view, to actually decrease the budget.
“We’ve seen anything from $100,000 to $300,000 in a good year of deductions,” Chock said. “Cuts come from this council which means what we constantly go through and what I’m seeing on an annual basis is where we are always looking and what we need to look at are these salaries. We can’t even get, we’re not even at capacity to fill these positions.”
Chock said all-in-all, he was pleased with council’s work and that he thinks the council is moving in the right direction.
Vice-chair Kagawa commended Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami in the budget process, adding that the mayor got all but $100,000 of his requested budget.
Kaneshiro gave final comment on the budget, thanking the staff, councilmembers and new administration for their work throughout the process.
“There were no changes to real property taxes, which is always a good thing for the public,” Kaneshiro said. “It’s easy to increase the tax rate and get projects that you want that year. But what happens to that money the next year? That money is going to go elsewhere and it’s gonna get absorbed through the budget and the next year we are going to say, ‘now what projects do I want, what am I going to do, raise taxes again.’”
Kaneshiro called the 2019-2020 budget healthy, adding that this is the first year they have seen a full year of general excise tax revenue, which accounted for most of the budget increase.
“I do want to stress how happy I am that we maintained a balanced budget,” Kaneshiro said. “We didn’t use our reserve fund to balance the budget which I think would be the worst possible thing you could do.”
Ryan Collins, county reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.