Kawakami administration breaks down $402 million Kaua‘i budget proposal

LIHU‘E — The budget process opened Thursday with a display of goodwill between the Kaua‘i County mayor and Kaua‘i County Council chair.

At the first 2023-24 fiscal year departmental budget review meeting, Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami presented Kauai Council Chair Mel Rapozo with a lei, which the chair jokingly referred to as a “peace offering.”

The budget process is a collaborative — and sometimes adversarial — interplay between the council and the mayor’s administration.

In past years, Rapozo has clashed with the administration of former Mayor Bernard Carvalho, now a fellow council member, sending the budget back to the mayor unsigned in 2017.

“Normally before budget, I take a teaspoon of gunpowder just to get fired up,” Rapozo joked Thursday. “So I drank milk to offset that.”

He extended an olive branch to the administration, expressing appreciation that Kawakami had reached out to each council member prior to the Thursday meeting.

In his address to the council, Kawakami extended his own olive branch. He emphasized the importance of the council’s role in the process.

“I don’t see you as being mean, I see you as always taking your job serious,” Kawakami told Rapozo. “A healthy democracy is built on the foundation of checks and balances. If there are questions you have that we cannot answer, then we have to do our job.”

After the mayor’s speech, Budget Administrator Ken Shimonishi presented on the broad strokes of the mayor’s proposals, which include a proposed $312 million operating budget and a $90 million capital improvement projects budget.

Reflecting increased revenues, the operating budget is up $52 million over the previous year, while the capital improvement projects budget jumped about $40 million.

The budget features a projected $45.2 million in new revenues, largely attributed to an increase in real property tax collections amid skyrocketing property values. Real property tax collections are forecast to rise $32.3 million over the previous fiscal year, Shimonishi reported. The bulk of remaining new revenues will come from a $6.5 million estimated increase in general excise tax collections.

Many of the proposed expenditures are aimed at reducing costs in the long run.

The proposal to pay down a $13 million state loan early for the Lima Ola affordable housing project in Lihu‘e could save about $7.5 million by the time the loan is due, depending on how the debt is paid off.

The proposed budget also focuses on purchasing equipment rather than leasing it, which reduces costs down the line. The budget for vehicles would go up $4.5 million and the budget for equipment would increase $4.7 million (respective increases of 139.5 and 80.3 percent) as a result of the focus.

As the administration moves to shift more of the budget toward operations instead of salaries, the chunk of the budget taken up by employee pay is forecast to shrink from 62.8 percent to 56.4 percent.

Salaries would increase about 7.8 percent, with notable gains in Emergency Management (28.5 percent), the County Attorney’s Office (15.1 percent), and the County Housing Agency (12.8 percent).

A total of 30 percent of the proposed budget would be allocated for the reserve fund, a decision Rapozo questioned, citing how rarely the fund is used.

“I cringe when I think about the amount of money that’s being put aside for reserves,” said Rapozo, who suggested possibly lowering the number to 25 percent.

Departmental budget reviews will continue at 9 a.m. Friday. The budget is set for a final decision-making on May 12.


Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-0329 or gscrimgeour@thegardenisland.com.

  1. Ben March 25, 2023 5:56 am Reply

    Kaua’i needs sewer systems from our Kaua’i County ASAP!!!

  2. Jay Franklin March 25, 2023 9:51 am Reply

    A budget of 402 million divided by 75,000 residents is $5,360 per resident! I guess now if the time to budget for every wish list item imaginable, Just be careful in assuming we can continue milking the non-resident real estate investors in the future as I am sure a lot of this budget if being paid by their property taxes. Certainly my grandaughter is not paying one cent of her $5,360 share, so someone else is………

  3. Heidi April 1, 2023 8:58 am Reply

    Very nice Gutherie. $402 million dollars is not a lot of money going around. Do you realize economically speaking Kaua’i does not contribute anything to the Hawai’i State Gross Domestic Product? State GDP. This means production. The UH football new Aloha Stadium will cost the taxpayers’ $550 million dollars just for the stadium and on UH football sports. This is more than the budget what Kaua’i has set for the County and whatever they have going here. Which is not any business at all.

    Do you ever wonder what your state representatives do for a job? Or how about your county Councilmen? Besides taking up space and passing out useless paper work. I think it is the millionaires who are in control of the island. And not the state legislature representatives and few have it out to believe. What now? No new taxes. That means no new business and no new expansion for a bigger or better economy is in sight. Not anything special if the rich get richer, and the others remain poor. Including your County government and representatives. Coco Palms hotel is not happening. No way on this investment. Not my loss. It’s the peoples’ loss.

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