Video by David Corrigan, voice of Stephanie Salazar
HILO, Hawaii – The Hawaii County Council passed a budget for the fiscal year 2013-2014 on Thursday.
The $394 million spending plan relies on a property tax increase to balance the budget.
The mayor sold the proposal at several community meetings in the days before the special council meeting was held. When it came time to decide, councilmembers said they knew they had little choice but to support the increases.
The only no votes came from Brenda Ford and Greggor Ilagan.
There were very few members of the public speaking on the tax increase. But one who did – Tim Reese – was not very pleased with the elected officials.
There is a silver lining for tax payers, though. The council also passed a resolution saying it will try to lower the tax increases for the next fiscal year starting in 2014.
The new budget will bring 28 more employees to the county payroll. That includes five new police officers for Puna and Ka’u, 12 firefighters and two lifeguards.
The budget also appropriates millions for new computers.
The increases are expected to continue. In the coming months, motorists are likely to see their registration fees rise by another $24. Hele-on bus riders would pay $1 more a trip. THe council must vote on those increases in separate measures.
Ka’u videoconference site funded
Whenever its time to hammer out a budget, the biggest discussion seems to revolve around amendments.
The council spent a lot of time on an amendment introduced by Brenda Ford, that intended to enhance the remote, Ka’u videoconferencing site. Situated in the Hawaiian Ocean View Estates subdivision, the location has been questioned lately, as other councilmembers have wondered if it was being utilized enough.
An alternative site in Pahala also got the council’s attention.
Hilo Councilman Dennis “Fresh” Onishi questioned Ford why she included so many different expenses on the same amendment.
Ford agreed to separate the different items in the amendment. Chair J Yoshimoto also reminded the council that the Ka’u video testimony site was budgeted for, regardless of the amendment. The extra money would enhance the site, Ford said.
North Kohala videoconference site to be funded with auditor money
A similar debate played out over a videoconference site in North Kohala. This time, there were two different amendments proposing to do the same thing – one submitted by Onishi and one submitted by Kohala councilwoman Margaret Wille – but they differed in how they proposed to pay for the site.
Onishi, as he does every year – wanted to take the funds from the budget of the legislative auditor.
Wille eyed the Contingency Relief fund.
In the end, Onishi’s plan won out.
Invasive species job voted down
Another amendment introduced by Wille proposed to put nearly $60,000 from the Contingency Relief fund towards the creation of a new position in the county’s Research and Development Department, with the intention that the new county employee would take on the island’s invasive species.
The new R and D director, Laverne Omori, said the department is still trying to fill the position vacated by DaiDai Hopkins, and did not appear to support the proposal.
Some councilmembers balked Wille’s talk of the relationship the employee would have to her anti-GMO agenda.
In the end, the council did not support the amendment.