City & County of Honolulu

Sewage officials float idea
of raising sewer fees to fund
future improvements

The request comes as Mayor Harris
urges a raid on the sewer fund

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

Sewer fees for Oahu homes likely will need to go up by as much as $4 a month -- starting July 2003, city officials said.

Honolulu Department of Environmental Services officials told members of the City Council Budget Committee yesterday that the money will be necessary to help fund about $1.8 billion in needed improvements to the city's sewer system over the next two decades.

In response, several Council members said they want to pull back some of the $60 million from the city's dedicated sewer fund that Mayor Jeremy Harris is proposing to use to help balance the city's $1 billion operating budget.

The administration calls the fund transfer a reimbursement. Council members say it is a raid on the fund.

Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi called it "frightening" that a one-time, $60 million transfer was needed to balance the city budget, and questioned how the city would make up that funding next year.

Budget Director Caroll Takahashi said the budget problem is the result of years of declining property tax revenues caused by a drop in property assessments coupled with the Council's refusal to increase property tax rates.

Tim Steinberger, director of environmental services, said retaining the money in the sewer fund would not help the city's sewer improvement program because most of the projects have not yet been designed or bid out for construction.

"I guess you could put it in there. It doesn't make much of a difference in savings ... probably not," he said.

Steinberger also defended his agency's policies.

"We have been able to manage our program without having raised rates for over 10 years," he said.

Councilman Duke Bainum criticized the administration for holding off on both a rate increase and the improvements.

"What hasn't happened is, you haven't started those vigorous sewer improvement projects you were supposed to start," he said. "You didn't need the money because you didn't do the work."

A court mandate that is driving the need for many of the projects to be done did not require that they be done until 2000, Steinberger said. The city, nonetheless, began work on many of them back in 1995, he said.

"We have not ignored the sewer system," Steinberger said. "We're on track with our projects as it stands."

City & County of Honolulu

E-mail to City Desk


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