Groups plead with City Council over budget
Tax-cut advocates and financially pressed arts groups called on the City Council to help them in next fiscal year's city budget, which received the second of three approvals yesterday.
"We want our property tax rates lowered significantly and substantially and meaningfully. So far, we have not seen anything in that direction," said Bob Grantham, of Property Tax Relief Now.
"The lowering of tax rates in this time of increasing property values is the only way of helping everyone -- owners, renters and business owners as well," testified Mike Abe, chairman of the Democrats for Property Tax Fairness Task Force.
But at yesterday's public hearing on the operating and capital improvements budgets, about a dozen members of the arts and economic development communities objected to budget cuts that would affect their programs.
The $1.49 billion operating budget that was approved yesterday is about $1.3 million less than the budget proposed by Mayor Mufi Hannemann.
Testifiers like Selena Ching, executive director of the Hawaii Youth Symphony, said that arts are just as important as basic government services.
"The arts are certainly not a nice-to-have frill," Ching testified in opposing cuts to funding for grants from the Mayor's Office of Culture and the Arts.
But councilmembers were quick to point out that they have a laundry list of priorities to fund this year.
"We're still looking at ways of giving relief to our taxpayers, but you mentioned the (sewage) spills, the flooding and alike. Because of that, we don't know how much (for relief)," said Councilman Romy Cachola.
Grantham expressed frustration at the lack of movement on tax-cutting efforts. He even criticized the mayor's proposal to lower rates by 16 cents, to $3.59 per $1,000 valuation.
"That's just about to me and the people I'm speaking on behalf of an insult," Grantham said.
But members of the Council expressed confidence they will be able to make room for a tax cut once the measure setting property tax rates goes back for reworking in the Budget Committee.