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Contingency plans: Council members seek to increase discretionary funding

County Council members are once again casting around to find money for their individual contingency accounts that were zeroed out in the mayor’s budget.

Contingency accounts give each council member their own little pot of money to give in a noncompetitive process after council approval to nonprofits and county agencies that request it.

Three council members have offered amendments to Bill 21, the $609.1 million operating budget proposed by Mayor Mitch Roth, to move money to the council contingency accounts. The council has set a special session Thursday to take up the budget on first reading.

The council also directs $2.5 million in grants-in-aid in a competitive process to nonprofits. Those grants rely on a formal application and presentation before a council subcommittee, which then makes recommendations to the full council. This year, the money is set to be distributed among 184 nonprofits in an amendment also scheduled to be voted on Thursday.

A member of a county board recently referred to the contingency account as a “slush fund,” drawing an immediate correction from Kohala Councilman Tim Richards. No matter what they’re called, the accounts, council members say, give the county flexibility throughout the year to react quickly to needs in their individual districts, supplementing funds distributed among more traditional pathways.

“Contingency is very important,” said Council Chairwoman Maile David, who represents South Kona and Ka‘u. “It’s the only means for council members to help their districts to fund community services and assist departments in offsetting costs of much needed equipment and services not covered in its budget.”

Examples of expenditures on the council regular meeting agenda for Wednesday, for example, include a chef challenge show, little fire ant control, food distribution, summer fun program, domestic violence victims assistance, computer equipment for a clubhouse for those suffering mental illness and others.

David has an amendment to take $675,000 from the fund balance — money not spent in the previous year carried over to the new budget year that begins July 1 — to give each council member $75,000.

Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas has an amendment to take $315,000 from the fund balance and put it into contingency accounts, giving each council member $35,000.

And North Kona Councilman Holeka Inaba proposes taking $359,000 from the Department of Research and Development’s $459,000 line item for tourism promotion contract services and putting $225,000 into contingency accounts, giving each council member $25,000. Frecia Cevallos, tourism specialist for R&D, did not respond to a voicemail by press-time Monday.

Inaba would put $84,000 of the remainder into a Parks and Recreation maintenance account for building and construction materials, and $50,000 into fire station equipment for the Hawaii Fire Department.

He did not respond to a voicemail seeking comment by press-time Monday.

It’s unlikely that all three amendments would pass, adding the total contingency to $1.2 million, or $135,000 per council member. David said her amendment should be sufficient.

“I believe the total is a fair amount that provides each council member meaningful and adequate funds specific to the needs of their respective districts and also address the ongoing impacts of (COVID-19),” she said.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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