City & County of Honolulu

Council budget
squeezes agencies

City officials complain about a
Council plan to cut overall
spending by up to $19 million

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

Top city officials are complaining loudly about the City Council's threat to slash their budgets by as much as 5 percent.

But Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi, who initiated the threatened cuts, said the Harris administration is overdramatizing the situation when all she and her colleagues want is answers.

Kobayashi and several agency chiefs exchanged harsh words yesterday at a Budget Committee hearing that was scheduled originally to give department heads time to answer specific questions raised by Council members during budget sessions held over the last six weeks.

Fire Chief Attilio Leonardi and others questioned why they had not been consulted before the budget-trimming plan that moved out of the committee on Thursday. They also demanded time to defend the areas that had been cut.

The plan approved 3-0 by the Budget Committee on Thursday calls for all non-public-safety agencies to slash their budgets by 5 percent. Public-safety agencies such as police, fire and water safety would be reduced by 1 percent.

Kobayashi said the budget-reducing plan, which would cut the $1.2 billion operating budget by as much as $19 million islandwide, is needed to help reduce the $60 million Mayor Jeremy Harris has slated to be transferred from the sewer fund. Kobayashi said that money could be going toward some $1.6 billion in sewer projects that have been forecast for the next two decades.

Leonardi warned that as many as 17 firefighters could be laid off if the Kobayashi proposal is carried out.

Kobayashi has insisted that the cuts should, and can, come without needing to lay off employees. But Leonardi said a cut of $586,000 from his budget, as proposed by Kobayashi, inevitably will lead to layoffs, particularly since the Fire Department has already agreed to forgo funding for 36 positions to help balance the Harris administration's budget.

"You folks have arbitrarily made cuts in here without discussing it with us -- our priorities, the way we see it or don't see it. We want to have that opportunity," Leonardi said.

Planning and Permitting Director Randall Fujiki said Kobayashi wants to cut nine sewer permit reviewers, a drastic reduction that would leave only four employees to process the plans of those seeking permission for a small home renovation to a major development. That would drastically slow down the processing of permits, Fujiki said.

Courtney Harrington, director of information technology, said he will not be able to hire eight workers who are critical to his agency. "We've been cut to the bone for so many years, there's nothing left," he said.

In all, the administration is estimating 146 jobs are at risk.

Kobayashi said agency chiefs could make an appointment with her to discuss their concerns, or raise them at next Wednesday's public hearing.

"It's just a first draft," Kobayashi said. "We don't want to jeopardize public safety, and we don't want layoffs."

City & County of Honolulu

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