Tuesday, May 14, 2002

City & County of Honolulu

$12 million restored
to mayor’s budget

The City Council retreats from
its initial threat of a $60-million
cut in Harris' budget

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

The City Council's Budget Committee is likely to restore much of the reduction it proposed to Mayor Jeremy Harris' operating and capital improvements budget.

But relations between Council members and administration officials remain chilly.

Proposed drafts released by Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi yesterday showed more than $12 million restored to the $1.02 billion operating budget, leaving only about $7 million in cuts.

Kobayashi had sought initially to trim $60 million -- which is the amount of revenue the administration wants to take from the sewer fund to help balance the budget -- but later proposed about $19 million in cuts. She called the sewer fund transfers "a raid."

On the capital improvements budget side, Kobayashi's proposal showed a return of $38.8 million to a $401 million budget. The original Harris request was for $475 million.

Plans to trim 5 percent across the board from nearly all departments have been scrapped. Most of the remaining cuts are in funded positions that have been vacant for more than two years.

More changes could be in the offing after department heads sought reinstatement of funding for programs.

For instance, Design and Construction Director Rae Loui told committee members that the loss of 29 people -- who are on personal service contracts -- could jeopardize projects expected to soon go to construction.

Corporation Counsel David Arakawa said a proviso severely curtailing the use of $1.2 million set aside for hiring private attorneys could expose the city to malpractice lawsuits because of a lack of representation.

Kobayashi said she would consider the changes sought. The committee will meet again Thursday, when it is expected to make its final recommendations to the full Council.

The most heated exchange during yesterday's discussions took place over the administration's efforts to rally community leaders to show up at City Hall and testify against the cuts. E-mails and letters were sent to more than 10,000 members of neighborhood boards, vision teams and even those receiving contracts from the city urging them to protest the cuts. The administration also held a closed-door meeting with 200 community leaders at Blaisdell Center two weeks ago and rallied for support at recent "Sunset on the Beach" programs in Waikiki.

Councilman Duke Bainum said the administration is attempting to "shape issues so that they reflect a certain point of view," he said. "You have the right to do it, but is it the proper use of public money? I'm not so sure that it is."

Kobayashi said the lobbying effort attempted to instill a false sense of fear in the public that vision team projects were to be cut when she had already said they would not. "What a waste of taxpayer money (to send out mailers) when there are no cuts to these projects."

Managing Director Ben Lee said the administration felt justified in letting the public know its position on the budget. "I don't believe there's anything wrong in advocating for any position," Lee said, noting that Kobayashi "certainly made some strong comments about our city finances" when she accused the administration of leading the city toward bankruptcy.

Later, Lee told reporters that "we were asking the community to participate in the community." With community-based projects in seeming jeopardy, Lee said, "Many of these people had worked long and hard to shape the future of the community, and they had every right to know."

City & County of Honolulu

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