Council to vote on its expanded budgets
Critics note changes to the mayor's version still fail to ease property taxes
The City Council was scheduled to take a final vote today on the proposed city $1.638 billion operating and $789 million construction budgets for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
The Council's version of the operating budget is $1.7 million more than what Mayor Mufi Hannemann proposed, and the capital improvement project budget has grown by $65 million over what the mayor sent to the Council.
"I think it's balancing the new obligations of the city, both from an operational and CIP (capital improvement projects) standpoint, with the obvious desire to provide tax relief," said Council Budget Chairman Todd Apo, who steered the budget course for the Council for the first time this year.
Apo said those new obligations include putting $40 million aside to pay for future retiree health care costs, about $8 million for voter-mandated special accounts for land preservation and affordable housing projects, and $8 million for solid-waste projects, including the startup of comprehensive curbside recycling, which voters also declared was a priority.
"Those were things that were not discretionary," Apo said.
But the budgets are already drawing criticism from members who say that more could have been done, not only to give homeowners a bigger tax break, but to keep property taxes from rising for businesses.
"I'm going to have a hard time supporting the budget that came out of the committee, what the committee is proposing, because I think there's still more responsible cuts that need to be made to keep commercial (property tax) rates from going up," Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz said. "Doctors, dentists, okazu-yas, pet shops -- they're going to have to pass those tax increases on."
The mayor proposed an increase in property tax rates for businesses to $12.50 per $1,000 in property value, but the current version of the budget scaled back the increase to $12.40.
Councilman Charles Djou said the property tax rate for commercial, hotel and industrial properties should stay at the current $11.97, and he is proposing further cuts to try to achieve that.
"My objective is to have no commercial property tax increase," Djou said.
To help reach that goal, Djou said further cuts -- about $150,000 worth -- should be made to what he calls the mayor's "publicity budget," or funds appropriated for public communication.
Djou is also looking to eliminate all the $200,000 for a program called the 21st Century Ahupuaa campaign.
"I have no idea what the heck it is, and the only thing I have seen of it is, I've seen all these posters of Mufi Hannemann showing up at all these shopping malls," Djou said.
Bill Brennan, the mayor's press secretary, said Djou's proposed cuts "seem way out of step with the wishes of the people who are telling us they want more, and not less, communication and information from their government."
He said funding for the 21st Century Ahupuaa is for the Mayor's Energy & Sustainability Task Force, which coordinates projects between city departments for energy conservation, alternative fuels and other related projects.