City & County of Honolulu

Harris predicts
possible layoffs

He says City Council budget
cuts could trigger job losses

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

Mayor Jeremy Harris says threatened 5 percent cuts in the $1.2 billion operating budget by the City Council could result in layoffs and jeopardize public safety.

"Across-the-board reductions of 5 percent cuts for nonpublic safety departments, such as Environmental Services, and 1 percent cuts for public safety departments, such as Fire and Police, will be devastating," Harris said in a news release late yesterday.

Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi, at a Budget Committee hearing earlier in the day, said the cuts are necessary to reduce the $60 million the administration has proposed transferring from the dedicated sewer fund to help balance the operating budget.

The money in the sewer fund would be better spent on some of the $1.6 billion in waste-water projects the city must do in the next two decades, Kobayashi and other Council members say.

But administration officials say they are all caught up with the sewer projects and that rejecting the $60 million transfer will necessitate increasing property tax rates by 15.6 percent.

"They said they didn't want to raise property taxes, so that's why we're faced with trying to cut the budget as much as we can," Kobayashi said, estimating that the across-the-board cuts would result in about $19 million of savings.

"And then we'll only have to take out about $40 million from the sewer fund," she said. A Council attorney issued an opinion earlier this month that transferring money earmarked for waste-water projects in the sewer fund to the city treasury may be illegal.

In determining what areas to trim, Kobayashi said, the budget staff focused on keeping the city's core services intact while eliminating other allocations.

For instance, Kobayashi said, the Office of Economic Development's budget is proposed to shrink to only $420,000 from $3.9 million because economic development is a state government function.

But Harris warned that across-the-board cuts will have more dire impacts. For instance, the mayor said, both the Brunch and Sunset on the Beach programs would be cut.

It would also result in reducing the ability of both the Fire and Police departments to recruit and train new employees, as well as limit the city's ability to defend itself in court and prosecute criminals, Harris said.

The administration warned that the cuts will result in the laying off of "warm bodies," although it would not say how many would be affected.

Kobayashi said she also does not know if warm bodies would be affected, noting that the administration has been secretive about the number of funded and vacant positions.

Kobayashi is also threatening to slash a number of projects from Harris' $475 million capital improvements budget, including most of the planned second and third phases of Central Oahu Regional Park.

Several of Kobayashi's colleagues said they like her no-nonsense approach to the budget but do not think they ultimately would vote for a 5 percent cut.

"I think (5 percent) might be too high," said Budget Committee member Gary Okino. "We're just throwing that out there to shake the trees and see what falls."

Councilman Duke Bainum said he appreciates Kobayashi's effort but added that a 5 percent cut across the board "fails to recognize that ... it would result in major disruption of certain departments."

City & County of Honolulu

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