Budget talks to continue

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Kaua‘i Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro

LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i County Council convened differently on Wednesday, as Councilmembers Luke Evslin and Mason Chock participated remotely via telecommunications in the meeting to practice social distancing amid the current COVID-19 outbreak.

The meeting, closed to the public and media, included councilmembers and essential staff phoning in through video or being physically present in the chamber. Last week, Gov. David Ige issued an emergency proclamation closing council meetings to the public, but the meeting was available for constituents to watch via live stream on the county’s website.

With budget discussions on the horizon, the council is already anticipating major changes due to the global pandemic.

In typical times, the county would host budget meetings for three weeks, but with the virus, new precautions are being taken.

The council has canceled in-person sessions, and will limit staff interaction, practicing social distancing.

Department heads submitted proposed budgets earlier this year along with presentations outlining upcoming projects and goals. It’ll be up to councilmembers to review and submit questions to department heads, giving them ample time to answer.

“Based on the current situation we’re in, the supplemental budget is going to be a lot different,” Council Chairman Arryl Kaneshiro said. Specifically, he noted that the county’s excise tax would be effected.

The county enforces a 4.712% general excise tax on nearly all purchases. Due to quarantines, working from home, closure of non-essential stores and a general slowdown of tourism, the county’s expected GET revenues and other money flowing into the county will be hit significantly. He also noted that there may be less money in federal and state grants coming in as the country responds to this ongoing crisis.

On Friday, Mayor Derek Kawakami will provide a statement on the budget, as will Kaneshiro.

Understanding that budgets were submitted prior to the pandemic, Kaneshiro noted that department heads can expect changes in the coming weeks as budgets are looked over and cut. “We’re trying to do the best we can with the unforeseen circumstances of the COVID-19 virus,” Kaneshiro said. “We’re being cognizant” of the time department heads will have to respond to anticipated cuts. Questions councilmembers pose, along with department answers, will be posted on the county’s budget website, as will budget-presentation notes.

“Everybody will see everything that we see,” Kaneshiro said.

Toward the end of the meeting, Chock thanked county staff for adapting during these times. Chock, who joined the meeting via webcam, said he had a little bit of a cough, and encouraged everyone to exercise caution.

Moving forward during this time, residents are asked to submit public-hearing testimony to counciltestimony@kauai.gov, to 241-6349, or mail responses to the County Clerk, 4396 Rice Street, Lihu‘e, 96766.

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Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or sbodon@thegardenisland.com.

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