Tax hike to take effect before transit plan set
A Council committee criticizes the lag in analyzing options
City Council members were not happy to hear yesterday that they will not be able to pick the type of mass transit for Oahu until early 2007, after the city starts collecting a new tax to fund the project.
That is a problem, members of the Council's Transportation Committee said yesterday, because the message to the public was that the tax surcharge would not be collected until after the Council picked a transit plan.
"Can you adjust the schedule so that we have ... the choice before us so we make a decision by December 2006?" asked Councilman Gary Okino, a rail proponent.
The surcharge would boost the general excise tax on Oahu to 4.5 percent. It is scheduled to be collected on Jan. 1, 2007.
Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas was awarded a nearly $10 million contract to analyze the best transit alternatives and determine environmental and other impacts.
Parsons Brinckerhoff project manager Mark Scheibe said those choices will include not building anything and improving the current bus system, scenarios that the federal government requires to be part of the analysis.
Scheibe said public hearings to determine the scope of the analysis -- the alternatives that the firm will examine -- will begin in December.
Scheibe also laid out for the committee the rest of the timetable for completion of the study.
Scheibe and Toru Hamayasu, city transportation chief planner, said part of the schedule is out of their control because the Federal Transit Administration and other agencies must also sign off on the plan.
"I made the point that the actual issuance of the (study) is going to depend on FTA's processing," Scheibe said.
"We don't (want) to be unrealistic about how long FTA or other agencies would take in approving the documents," Hamayasu said.
Both men said there would be an attempt to move up the schedule, but their assurances were met with skepticism.
"The whole intention was to give the public the assurance we have an alternative that we want to fund, so that's why I say that's a very important date for us," Okino said. "If we can by any means achieve that date, it would be much appreciated because you guys are not seated over here. We're going to be taking the heat for this."
The other reason why January 2007 is an important date is that there is the potential for a new City Council roster to take office that month. Four Council members are up for re-election in fall 2006.
"That could affect approval of the plan," Councilman Charles Djou said.