Thursday, May 30, 2002

City & County of Honolulu

Council approves
mayor’s budget

The plan will allow for more
pools and skateboard parks

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

City Council members decided there will be more swimming pools and skateboard parks in the coming year after all as they wrapped up one of the most bitterly contested city budgets in the past decade.

The Council voted yesterday to reverse committee decisions that would have held off construction of pools for three years and skateboard facilities for more than a year.

That set the stage for the members to give final approval to a $1.12 billion operating budget and $455 million construction budget.

After weeks of debate during which Council members had hoped to slash as much as $60 million from the operating budget, the final trim amounted to a cut of just over $5 million, or one-half of 1 percent of the budget proposed by Mayor Jeremy Harris. The construction package was $25.5 million less than Harris' original submittal.

The administration says the cuts include funding for economic development events, reducing the number of Sunset on the Beach programs.

Debate centered yesterday on the fate of plans for new swimming pools and skateboard parks.

The Budget Committee had approved a resolution establishing a three-year moratorium, but it was shot down by the Council in a 5-4 vote.

A proposed moratorium on new city skate parks and swimming pools died yesterday in the City Council. That means skaters, like this one at Koko Head Skate Park in August, may be getting more places to do their stuff.

Members Darrlyn Bunda, John DeSoto, John Henry Felix, Steve Holmes and Jon Yoshimura voted against the moratorium while Duke Bainum, Romy Cachola and Ann Kobayashi joined resolution author Gary Okino in supporting it.

Okino said the city will face a record $159 million shortfall when budget deliberations begin next year, and taxpayers should not be asked to absorb the additional cost of not just constructing, but operating swimming pools.

City parks officials have estimated it costs between $154,000 and $206,000 annually to maintain the city's 19 pools. (The city's 20th pool, at Salt Lake District Park, is under construction and will open later this year.)

Some $6.1 million in funding for an aquatics center at Central Oahu Regional Park would have been exempted from the moratorium, but $1 million for a pool at Koko Head District Park and $500,000 for another facility in Waianae were saved after being on the chopping block.

Hawaii Kai resident Kelly Washino was elated with the Council's decision.

Washino said a pool is needed in her area because there is no safe place for children, including her 6-year-old son, Steven, to learn to swim. "In Hawaii, swimming is a necessity, not a luxury," she said.

The plan to halt skateboard parks until at least Dec. 31, 2003, was rejected 6-3. Only Cachola, Kobayashi and Okino supported the measure.

Cachola, who introduced the legislation, said the city should obtain a liability waiver from the state Legislature before more are constructed. He noted that four other mainland states have been granted immunity.

The city has seven skateboard parks, and two more are under construction. Five are in the planning/design phase, and eight have been requested.

Yoshimura said there was no need to approve the resolution. "If we feel we have too many skateboard parks, take them out of the budget," he said.

After the discussions on pools and skateboard parks, the votes on the operating and capital improvements budgets were tame.

Kobayashi, who led the charge to cut expenses as budget chairwoman, reiterated how Harris "raided" $60 million from the dedicated sewer fund and used other one-time funds to balance the budget.

The administration, she said, gave Council members vague responses when asked about specifics of the budget.

"Give us the information that we need to balance the budget not in the future, but next year," Kobayashi said. "We want to ... look for solutions to this huge financial problem that seems impossible to solve."

But Councilman Jon Yoshimura said that all the contentiousness of the budget proceedings showed was that it is difficult to make wholesale cuts to the budget.

"The fact that we could only cut $5.1 million shows we don't have spending problems, we have a revenue problem."

Harris, in a news release, said: "After months of bitter criticism of the administration's budget, it is gratifying to see that the Council has passed the administration's budget with only minor changes."

The Council also voted to keep property tax rates the same for the coming year, although several members warned they likely will have to raise them next year as a result of the administration's refinancing and borrowing policies.

City & County of Honolulu

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