Mayor’s budget plan mostly intact
A City Council committee juggled about $7 million in the city's budget but kept most of Mayor Mufi Hannemann's proposals, including the commuter ferry system and the elevated mass-transit project.
The City Council is keeping many of Mayor Mufi Hannemann's proposed projects in the fiscal 2009 city budget, including:
» $265.1 million for planning, design and construction for the elevated mass-transit system running from Kapolei to Ala Moana.
» $3 million for TheBoat to continue operating beyond its one-year pilot.
» $2 million to develop the River Street Residences, a 60-unit affordable-housing complex in Chinatown.
» $63,000 to start up a Honolulu Police Department parks patrol.
The City Council will vote for the final version of the city's budget at its next meeting on June 4.
After a brief discussion yesterday, the Council Budget Committee decided the $7 million -- made up primarily from cuts in vacant positions and the city's rainy day funds -- would go toward purchasing new equipment and unanticipated energy costs.
Under the latest version of the city's budget, homeowners would get a tax credit of $100 as proposed by Hannemann earlier this year. That's half of the $200 credit in the current fiscal year.
Council members, preparing for a bleaker financial future for the city, rejected proposals that would have increased the tax credit and decreased the property tax rate.
Budget Chairman Todd Apo said that while the council would like to reduce the burden on taxpayers, a more beneficial fiscal move would be to reduce the city's debt.
Apo proposed adding $3 million of the surplus in a fund for the city's unanticipated energy expenditures, bringing the total to $13 million in case departments run over their budgeted energy costs. The other $4 million would be used as cash to purchase large equipment, a method intended to avoid incurring debt and resulting interest.
While the City Council made several cuts in the $1.8 billion operating budget, Council members introduced several proposals.
To ensure the city administration begins shipping trash to the mainland, Councilman Gary Okino proposed a budget condition dedicating at least $7 million, an increase of $2 million of what Hannemann had sought.
"We want to make sure we can pay for the 100,000 tons we want to ship," Okino said.
City Environmental Services Director Eric Takamura said adding a restriction that the $7 million can be used only for shipping trash gives his department less flexibility.
"Our only concern is if we don't use all the $7 million for shipping trash, we can't use it for something else," Takamura said.
One of Hannemann's controversial projects includes TheBoat, the commuter ferry system connecting Aloha Tower to Kalaeloa. Several Council members are hesitant to fund TheBoat, a pilot project paid by the federal government through a $5 million grant ending Sept. 30.
"The ridership is too low," Okino said. "It's too expensive. I never thought it would work out from the beginning and it's kind of proving out that way."
Councilman Charles Djou proposed a $1 million cut to TheBoat's $4 million operating expense, hoping it would force the administration to report to the Council before receiving funding needed after September. But the Budget Committee went along with Djou's proposal after Transportation Services Director Wayne Yoshioka said the city could run TheBoat with $3 million.
Council members Djou and Donovan Dela Cruz tried to place conditions on funding for the $3.7 billion elevated mass-transit system, but failed. The committee approved planning, design and construction for the project at a cost of $265.1 million, which will come from the city's dedicated transit fund.