Thursday, June 10, 1999

City & County of Honolulu

Council chairman
urges group ‘to fix
human relations’

A 6-3 split persists as it passes
budgets hiking city pay and many fees

By Pat Omandam


Can't we all just get along?

That was the message City Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura offered colleagues after they took 8 hours yesterday to pass the city's operating and capital improvement budgets, despite strong criticism by dozens of residents and a few Council members.

Yoshimura, who took over the Council a month ago, said this has been an "extraordinary trying time" because the new leadership had little time to work on the budget.

He believes the Council could have done a better job, and anticipates a much smoother time guiding the next budget cycle.

"I think we were too preoccupied with fighting with the administration, we were too preoccupied with arguing amongst ourselves, and we did not involve the public until too late a time in the budget deliberations," Yoshimura said.

Foremost, Yoshimura must close the rift between the Council majority and ousted members John Henry Felix, Donna Mercado Kim and Mufi Hannemann. The vocal minority used many opportunities yesterday to criticize the leadership's handling of the budget, as well as the influence Mayor Jeremy Harris had in it.

"I think we owe it to ourselves and we owe it to the people we serve to fix the human relations on this Council," Yoshimura said.

By an expected 6-3 vote, the Council yesterday passed an $1.031 billion city operating budget that is $37 million, or 3.5 percent, less than the current year's. The budget, which goes into effect July 1, avoids garbage collection fees and does not raise bus fares or golf and cart fees. It eliminates city leasing of equipment, as well as a sports coordinator and private secretary positions. And it reduces funding for vacant positions, travel and subscriptions.

License, car, other fees increase

What it does provide is $39.8 million in retroactive 1997-99 and current pay raises for city workers, while it places a priority on areas including health and safety, and maintenance of existing programs and facilities, said Budget Chairwoman Rene Mansho.

Mansho said fees for inspections, licenses, various permits, duplicating services and building permits will go up. The fees and surcharges for solid waste disposal for commercial users will also increase, although the Council plans to meet affected parties next month to develop a lower fee, she said.

The motor vehicle registration fee will double to $20 from $10 to raise $6 million in revenue.

And a resolution that sets real property taxes for fiscal year 2000 -- the most criticized portion of the budget -- passed in the face of overwhelming opposition.

Disappearing shortfall bothers Felix

Mansho praised the collaboration between the Council leadership and the city administration to deliver a responsible and responsive budget that takes care of city business. Felix and the others, however, said that was the problem.

Felix said the budget lacked fiscal responsibility because steps were not taken to ensure city money was spent wisely. He questioned the disappearance of the city's $130 million budget shortfall that the mayor warned about last fall.

Was it real or was it "the figment of a spin-meister's imagination," Felix wondered.

"There is no magic to the budget process," he said.

Meanwhile, the Council by a 6-3 vote approved a $268 million capital budget, including $56.7 million for sewer improvements and funding for all 19 of Harris' community visioning team proposals, as well as money for hundreds of other construction projects.

A few of them include $1 million for a Filipino community center in Waipahu; $2 million to demolish and rebuild the Wahiawa Fire Station; $4.8 million to buy more automated refuse collection containers and trucks; and $2 million to improve the city's computerized traffic control system.

Also in the budget is funding for 100 park projects around the island, such as $850,000 to rebuild cart paths at the Ala Wai Golf Course; $555,000 for an access road and trail to the Haiku Stairs; $3 million for an elephant breeding facility at the Honolulu Zoo; and $275,000 for two volleyball courts, play equipment and an irrigation system at Pupuole Street Mini Park in Waipahu.

Kim said she has never seen so many last-minute changes to the budget, and criticized Council leadership for removing capital money from her district, including more than $400,000 to fix the Kalihi Valley community pool.

Council hikes property
taxes for homes,
agriculture, business

Critics, 'profoundly disappointed'
by the 5-4 vote, also blame Harris

By Pat Omandam


Members of the Taxpayer Coalition, a group of Honolulu business and property owners, said they will not forget the five City Council members who yesterday voted in favor of increasing real property tax rates to balance the city budget.

Jay M. Fidell, coalition spokesman, said the group is "profoundly disappointed" by the actions of Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura and members Duke Bainum, Steve Holmes, John DeSoto and Rene Mansho.

They also blamed Mayor Jeremy Harris for his part in pushing through Resolution 99-71, despite overwhelming testimony against the plan.

The measure raises property taxes by 4.5 percent for single-family homes; 13 percent for condo and apartment owners; 3 percent for hotel and resorts; 4 percent for commercial property; 9 percent for industrial lands; and 10 percent for agricultural lands.

"Wednesday's vote was head-in-the-sand, same-old-same-old on a critical issue in critical times, and completely unresponsive to the public interest," Fidell said. "Those present could only conclude that the vote was a backroom deal done for all the wrong reasons, hauntingly similar to the rejection of Margery Bronster by the state Senate."

The Council's 5-4 vote -- which saw majority leader Andy Mirikitani side with the three-member minority -- came after more than two dozen people testified against the measure, including hotel and business leaders, condo managers and residents, and a state representative.

Mansho said the tax plan helps maintain basic city services and, on average, will not increase property taxes for most people. While it is popular for people to oppose tax increases, they must understand the city must find ways to deliver the same level of basic health and safety services no matter the economy, she said.

"We've tried our best," said Mansho, who added that her committee will meet this summer to review current laws and policies for possible real property tax reform measures.

Nevertheless, those who testified at yesterday's daylong meeting said the Council's best is not good enough. Many believe before the city raises any property taxes, it should look at cutting items such as the $11 million restoration of the Waikiki Natatorium.

"Do not even consider raising real property taxes unless you cut the Natatorium out of the budget," said Rick Bernstein of the Kaimana Beach Coalition.

Richard Port, speaking for the Yacht Harbor Towers and the Hawaii Council of Associations of Apartment Owners, said the measure discriminates against condo owners, who now pay 2 times more taxes than single-family home owners.

"Those who vote in favor of the resolution are declaring war on condo owners," he said.

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