Hokama offers alternative to mayor’s budget proposal
April 28, 2015
By MELISSA TANJI - Staff Writer (firstname.lastname@example.org) , The Maui News
WAILUKU - Lower property tax and status quo water rates, along with higher user fees for the Waiehu Municipal Golf Course and Maui Bus, were part of the proposed budget presented by the Maui County Council's Budget and Finance Committee chairman Monday.
Chairman Riki Hokama chose to retain Mayor Alan Arakawa's proposed increases to sewer, trash collection and tipping fees along with hikes to the vehicle fuel and weight taxes.
In his remarks to other councilors in Council Chambers, Hokama noted repeatedly in his remarks that "nothing is free" and that residents could not sustain "double-digit" increases to some taxes, especially property taxes.
(Article Photos) Hokama
Hokama's proposals come as the committee nears the final stretch of its review of the fiscal 2016 budget that takes effect July 1. The proposal has yet to be referred to the full council, which has until June 10 to pass the budget. Failing to act would mean the mayor's budget would take effect, as submitted. Committee meetings are scheduled throughout this week. Public testimony is being accepted.
Hokama's proposed budget is $586 million, or about $114 million less than Arakawa's proposed budget of nearly $700 million. Arakawa's proposed budget is 16 percent higher than this year's council-adopted budget of $604 million. Hokama's proposal for the next fiscal year is $18 million, or 3 percent, less than the current year's budget.
When delivering his proposal, Hokama said that he was decreasing borrowing by $96 million and axing capital improvement projects that have insufficient design work and other problems that make them difficult to move forward.
PROPERTY TAX RATE PROPOSALS
Mayor Alan Arakawa is proposing to keep property tax rates for fiscal year 2016 the same as the current year. Maui County Council Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Riki Hokama is seeking a 3.5 to 4 percent decrease in all tax categories because valuations have climbed 13.5 percent. The proposed rates are per $1,000 of net taxable assessed value.
HIGHLIGHTS TO HOKAMA'S PROPOSAL
Maui County Council Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Riki Hokama offered his proposal for the 2016 fiscal year budget that begins July 1. The plan includes:
* $1.2 million for the continued defense against the coqui frog.
* Adding $7.5 million to a request by Mayor Alan Arakawa for a new municipal parking lot in Wailuku.
* $9.6 million for source, transmission and storage to help reduce the Upcountry waiting list for water meters.
* Adding expansion positions and funding for new operations and equipment for Real Property Tax functions; proposal could generate $5 million in additional revenue.
* More flexibility with Waiehu Golf Course rates to be more competitive with private courses and to make the course self-sustaining.
He also is decreasing the county workforce through attrition and would consider shifting vacant positions before adding new ones.
The cost to county residents by doing "nothing" and allowing Arakawa's proposed budget to take effect is "too high," Hokama said. He questioned Arakawa's $700 million "burden" on the "people we were elected to serve."
"Residents spend within their means (and don't) create a wish list and extract payment from their neighbors," Hokama said, alluding to Arakawa's proposed rate and fee increases and large and long-term projects.
Although Arakawa is proposing to keep property tax rates the same, valuations are up 13.5 percent. Hokama said that even if current rates are maintained, it will result in a "significant increase in real property tax" payments by property owners.
Hokama is proposing a 3.5 to 4 percent overall decrease in rates. Still, he said, his proposal means property owners would be paying more and generating 5 percent more in property tax revenues for the county.
Under Hokama's proposal, the county would net $254 million in property taxes, a $16 million increase over the current fiscal year. Under Arakawa's proposal, the county would net $263 million.
Water rates, including those for agriculture, would remain the same along with water meter service charges. Hokama proposes no fee increase for new water meters. Comparatively, Arakawa proposed a 2.5 percent hike for water service fees, which include bills for water usage. He also sought to more than double the current water service development fee for a standard 5/8th-inch residential meter from $6,030 to $14,060.
Arakawa has long sought the increases to pay for water improvement projects that he said the county should be doing now to save on repair costs in the future.
Instead of increasing water rates and fees for residents, Hokama is seeking to appropriate nearly $10 million for source, transmission and storage development for the water department and to assist with the reduction in the Upcountry water meter wait list.
Hokama has proposed keeping some of Arakawa's other proposed fee and rate increases. Fire, police and ocean safety department operations; road repairs; and running the bus system cost money, he said, repeating his "nothing is free" mantra.
Hokama said rates and fees are proposed to "ensure services for residents are sustainable in the near futures to come."
Areas where Hokama aligns with with Arakawa include:
* 5 percent increase to sewer fees to assist with developing a needed sewage treatment plant.
* $4 increase to trash collection fees per month for Maui and Molokai; $2 increase per month for Lanai.
* Commercial tipping fee increase from $65.60 to $80 per ton.
* 2 cent per gallon increase in the county fuel tax, from 16 cents to 18 cents.
* Vehicle weight tax increase from $0.0275 to $0.03 per pound of net weight for passenger vehicles, trucks and noncommercial vehicles not exceeding 6,500 pounds.
Hokama also is proposing a $1 increase to all daily pass routes for the Maui Bus and raising general monthly passes for all categories, including senior citizens and disability bus fares, from $45 to $60 for all routes.
Waiehu Golf Course fees also would be tinkered with in Hokama's plan, with some rates increasing and others decreasing. There also would be new twilight and 9-hole rates.
Fees also would increase from $2 to $12 for camping permits, and the commercial bike tour permit annual fee would go from $100 to $250.
The capital improvement projects Hokama nixed included nearly $30 million in construction funds for the Kalana O Maui Campus expansion; $2.9 million for the county Waikapu Baseyard; $2 million for upgrades, including a new gym and other facilities, for the War Memorial Complex; and $4 million for the South Maui gymnasium.
The budget committee chairman also proposed reducing the mayor's requests for funding of equipment, premium pay and operations in many departments. Hokama is leaving the personnel count the same as the current fiscal year.
Hokama said spending on nonprofits would remain level for next year compared to this year's budget.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.