Wednesday, March 31, 1999

City & County of Honolulu

City Council
determined to
cut budget

The public will not accept
increased fees or taxes, says
council chairman

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


City Council leaders say they are committed to trimming 2 percent from Mayor Jeremy Harris' proposed operating budget to avoid a fee for garbage pickup.

Council members estimate that will mean $20 million must be lopped off the mayor's $1.02 billion budget for fiscal year 1999-2000, which is already $35 million less than this year's.

The cut "will get us to the point where real property taxes will be revenue neutral, there will be no refuse collection fee and we'll have some left over ... to build a rainy day fund," said Budget Chairman John Henry Felix.

Council Chairman Mufi Hannemann said he was "very serious" about cutting 2 percent from the operating budget.

"I'm convinced that the public is not accepting the fact we need to raise all these fees and raise property taxes," Hannemann said. "I don't think they're convinced we've spent their money wisely."

Felix and Hannemann were among the council members irked yesterday when Enterprise Services Director Alvin Au suggested that the children's petting zoo at Honolulu Zoo and Kahuku Golf Course be closed and that the number of nonprofit events at Blaisdell Center concert hall be limited.

Hannemann had asked each city agency to detail to the Budget Committee how a 2 percent cut would affect its services.

Counties urge excise tax exemption

By Gordon Y.K. Pang, Star-Bulletin

The chairmen of all four county councils in Hawaii are urging state House leaders to hear a bill exempting their governments from paying general excise taxes.

The Senate has already approved the measure, but House leaders have been reluctant to give the measure a hearing.

Mufi Hannemann of the City and County of Honolulu, Jimmy Arakaki of Hawaii County, Patrick Kawana of Maui County, and Ron Kouchi of Kauai County said their respective budgets are strapped for money and believe there is justification for the exemption.

Hawaii is the only state that imposes a general excise or sales tax on its county governments each time they purchase goods, the four men said.

The state exempts itself from paying county property taxes despite being Hawaii's largest landowner and while using county services.

Hannemann said the city would get back $15 million in revenue under an exemption.

"We're all facing a shortfall," he said. "Either we get this money or we can raise user fees and/or property taxes," he said.

He said it was disingenuous for the administration to suggest it would need to close the children's zoo, saving about $60,000 annually, when it could just as easily eliminate the positions of deputy enterprise services director, assistant zoo director and administrative staff at the zoo.

Said Felix: "It was almost an insult. I was quite taken aback by their strategy to cut 2 percent by cutting services rather than overhead. That wasn't the idea."

Zoo director Ken Redman said he was "between a rock and hard place" in deciding a 2 percent cut would take away the children's zoo.

Budget Director Malcolm Tom objected to the council's criticism. "We are not recommending a 2 percent cut, we are only responding to your request as to the impact of a 2 percent cut in the operating budget," he said.

"As you're learning, the only way to reduce costs is through salary cuts. We are recommending strongly against any more cuts."

Council members were unconvinced.

"It's very easy to see what's happening here," Councilman Jon Yoshimura said. "They're making choices no one in their right mind would take."


In the path of the swinging ax

Here's what city department heads say would result from a 2 percent budget cut:

Bullet Parks Director Bill Balfour said 34 positions would be cut, leaving parks maintenance to suffer the most; or reduce operations at each of the city's 18 swimming pools.

Bullet Customer Services Director Carol Costa said she would have to close at least one of the city's nine satellite city halls.

Bullet Facilities Maintenance Director Ross Sasamura said he would need to greatly reduce road paving, stream cleaning and street sweeping and suspend the graffiti removal program.

Bullet Police Chief Lee Donohue said he would need to delay opening lock-up facilities at the new Kapolei Police Station.

Bullet Environmental Services Director Kenn Sprague said he would have to lay off 48 people in the Refuse and Wastewater divisions.

Bullet Transportation Services Director Cheryl Soon said her agency would lose 35,000 bus service hours, a reduction of 21 drivers and reduced Handi-Van service.

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