LIHU‘E — The next budget spanning July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022, plays a key role in the county’s COVID-19 recovery.
Mayor Derek Kawakami and his administration proposed a $243 million operating budget and $24.3 million capital improvement projects budget last week that proposes no layoffs or furloughs for county employees and no tax raises for residents.
“Doing more with less will be a difficult battle, as there are many needs that deserve to be prioritized,” Kawakami wrote in a March 12 letter to the Kaua‘i County Council. “However, this year will define our county’s fiscal outlook for the years ahead, and we must stay vigilant in our endeavor to rebuild what we have lost.”
The budget, which the Kaua‘i County Council will begin diving into this week, prioritizes past deferred maintenance, affordable housing and pandemic response.
And this will be done, Kawakami proposes, with a significant cut to the county’s overall budget.
When Kawakami submitted the fiscal 2021 budget last March, the outlook was hazy, as he proposed an operating budget of $261.1 million and a CIP budget of $34.4 million.
“During the development of this budget submittal over the past few months, the revenue picture was very clear,” Kawakami wrote last year. “However, we fully recognize this presumption is no longer the case.”
Over the following months, the administration cut back the budget to $250.7 million on the operating side and $33.6 for capital projects.
“There’s no question that our operating budget has significantly decreased in FY22,” Kawakami wrote last week. “However, we are pleased to present a budget that keeps our workforce intact without proposing layoffs or furloughs.”
Since the county must maintain a balanced budget, the prospect of missing out on the county’s share of the state transient accommodation tax, or hotel-room tax, an estimated $14.9 million, or 8.3% of the budget, will likely be affected by Gov. David Ige’s suspension of payments to the counties. Real-property-tax revenues, however, have remained consistent around $157.2 million, as has the county’s general-excise-tax revenue at $19.8 million.
The county is also refinancing general-obligation debt to save about $1.5 million, should current market conditions remain the same.
What’s in the budget?
Maintenance will be a priority in the upcoming fiscal year.
A recent survey identified over $80 million in deferred-maintenance costs, which have become “increasingly” concerning to the administration, Kawakami writes to the council.
A vertical expansion of the Kekaha Landfill projected at $335,200 in the CIP seeks to add four years to the site’s lifespan. The county will continue negotiations with the state to site a new landfill near Ma‘alo Road in Kapaia.
Roads and bridges alike have seen increased maintenance in the last year, which Kawakami’s budget wants to continue. This includes repairs to the Hanapepe Bridge, which the county is matching $175,000. The county is looking to make repairs to bridges in Kipu and Koloa. The CIP has $700,000 allocated for minor bridge repairs.
Additionally, the administration seeks to repave Olohena, Kukui and Ulu roads and a Safe Routes to School projects at Koloa and King Kaumuali‘i schools.
An additional $39 million in remaining Act 35 funds will support infrastructure projects related to the 2018 floods. The county seeks to make road and culvert repairs on Wainiha Powerhouse Road.
Kawakami, in his memo, pointed to the need for upgrades to wastewater systems. The budget proposed a $12.4 million for the Department of Public Works Wastewater Management Division, $945,428 of which is allocated for consultant services for projects including the Waimea resuse system and state Department of Health microbiology testing. Last fiscal year, the division’s consulting budget was $5,200.
This budget proposal also allocates $2.6 million toward housing and homelessness efforts within the County Housing Agency.
As with last year, a review of the budget indicated continued restrictions on travel for conferences and some training. While the county does not propose any layoffs, there were 13 positions that have been cut to dollar funding, and 32 positions have been short-funded for half-year contracts.
Addressing past issues
Issues that came up during last fiscal year’s budget and subsequent months are also being addressed.
When the 2021 budget was up for its second and final reading, a slew of public testimony came in against feral-cat control. This proposal denotes $120,000 toward feral-cat control, up from a $50,000 allocation last year, to mitigate bird predators which could result in the county being subject to federal fines.
During Wednesday’s council meeting, Bill 2817 will be up for a second and final reading. This bill redistributes $250,000 to the Golf Fund, due to a shortfall in the budget for Wailua Golf Course.
The 2021 fiscal budget allocated $2,811,724 to the course. The administration proposes $2,728,845 for the course, with less to pay in post-employee benefits and leased equipment.
Salaries make up about 83.4% of the general fund. The county is anticipating a modernized human-resource-management system to go live next January. In October, the county had allocated about $1.225 million for the system.
Both the operational and CIP budgets will be up for first reading Wednesday, March 24, at the County Council’s 8:30 a.m. meeting available to view at kauai.gov/webcast-meetings.
The council will begin departmental budget reviews on Thursday, March 25.
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.