City attorneys sayBy Gordon Y.K. Pang
Aina Haina developers
dont have a case
Four city attorneys have advised the City Council's Budget Committee that they think landowners of two controversial sites in Aina Haina don't have grounds to sue for a "taking" of property rights.
Still, the committee voted 4-1 to move forward a bill alloting up to $5 million to purchase the 94.7 acres that city tax assessors say have a combined value of $466,100.
Supporters of the bill say they want to create an Aina Haina Nature Preserve on the parcels and protect it from development.
They also fear the city could be sued for refusing to allow a cemetery on the sites which the landowner and developer claimed was a "principal use" for the properties.
But during a lengthy closed door session with committee members, Corporation Counsel David Arakawa, two attorneys who work under him, and a City Council attorney all said the landowner and developer "don't have a case," said Councilman Jon Yoshimura, the deal's main critic.
"They disputed the landowner's attorney who claimed they can sue us for a taking," Yoshimura said.
During the meeting, Gary Kurokawa, the city's real property tax division administrator, testified that the parcels were assessed low because ground under the two properties is unstable and unsuitable for most types of development.
Kurokawa noted that surrounding properties had been purchased by the city for $6.8 million due to landslide problems several years back.
Yoshimura said city attorneys also warned him that the purchase could be "a problem" since the city might be sued if a landslide originated from the parcels.
Yoshimura also questioned the precedent of purchasing the land.
"There are a lot of communities out there who would like to have the same thing happen to them," Yoshimura said, noting that large-scale plans for a property in the back of Pauoa Valley were nixed by the city.
Neither a lawsuit nor development ensued even without city purchase of the property, he said.
Councilman Andy Mirikitani joined Yoshimura in asking for a deferral, stating that he wanted more time to see the justification for the cost and for creating the nature preserve.
The deferral motion died 3-2.
Council Chairman Mufi Hannemann urged colleagues to stop blaming others and to resolve a troubling situation by voting for the purchase.
Plan to use bonds toBy Gordon Y.K. Pang
pay salaries nixed
No borrowed money will go toward paying the salaries of city employees this fiscal year.
The City Council Budget Committee voted unanimously yesterday to shelve Mayor Jeremy Harris' plan to use capitol improvement bonds to pay partially the salaries of employees of the Design and Construction Deparment.
Instead, the city will need to dip into its carry-over balance to come up with the money for the paychecks.
The administration originally asked for $2.5 million in bonds to be used to pay partially for the salaries of 146 employees in the department.
Late Tuesday, a "sanitized list" proposing the use of $1.8 million for 43 employees was sent to Council Chairman Mufi Hannemann by city Budget Director Malcolm Tom.
But Hannemann said the second proposal failed to ease his concerns and he urged colleagues to vote for the deferral.
The second plan, like the first, called for using some of the money to pay for work done on projects initiated in fiscal years 1997 and 1998 when only 1999-initiated projects should have been factored, Hannemann said.
Further, Hannemann said, he'd wanted only the salaries of those employees working 100 percent of the time on capital improvement projects to be augmented by bond money and the administration's revised proposal did not stipulate that was the case.
Hannemann said the Council will still look at whether to use bond money to pay for salaries in next year's budget.
"The only reason I'm open to it is we've never faced this kind of deficit before," Hannemann said after the meeting.
Budget Chairman John Henry Felix said a workshop will be held March 10 to allow Tom to explain the concept.
Other Council members also said they felt uncomfortable paying salaries using borrowed money to be paid back over 20 to 25 years.
Councilwoman Donna Mercado Kim said while the Council may have given the administration the option to propose using bond money for salaries, Tom and Harris erred when he told reporters that the administration had already received approval to allocate the money.
"It's a common practice for businesses to put off today's expenses until tomorrow," Councilman Jon Yoshimura said. "But I don't think we should be in the business of eliminating costs today by incurring costs tomorrow."
An informal survey done by the Star-Bulletin showed the state Department of Accounting and General Services pays for the salaries of about 119 engineers, inspectors and other employees through bond money while the Department of Transportation pays about 350 of its employees in that manner.