LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i County Council finalized the county’s draft budget on Friday, including additional decreases to the Homestead tax rate and new funds for the Kaua‘i Police Department, in an uncharacteristically noncombative council meeting.
Each year, Kaua‘i’s mayor and council members provide final inclusions to the draft budget through what’s known as the supplemental budget. While hearings on the supplemental budge often hinge on strong points of contention between the mayor’s office and council — or between council members themselves — this year’s meeting saw both political branches take a more amicable approach.
Council Chair Mel Rapozo noted at the beginning of the meeting that Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami had individually sat down with each council member to discuss the additions earlier, in an effort to accommodate their requests.
“I don’t expect a contentious decision-making session,” Rapozo said.
Indeed, the council
members unanimously approved the mayor’s last-minute proposals.
Included in the proposals are an additional 15 percent decrease to the Homestead tax rate from fiscal year 2023, as well as an additional $900,000 for Kaua‘i’s agricultural industry.
“We believe the size of this funding can now support our small farmers who are seeking small-scale infrastructure investments to support their operations long term,” according to a communication from Kawakami.
To address the state Legislature’s decision to withhold all funds for the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, the mayor’s office also included $250,000 for the county’s Office of Economic Development to implement a destination management action plan.
The council also unanimously approved council Member Billy DeCosta’s proposal for a $200,000 addition to the budget.
Approximately $130,000 of those funds would pay for efforts to upgrade the Kaua‘i Police Department’s mobile data terminals, the computerized communication devices installed in police vehicles.
“We’re going to take care of you and your department,” DeCosta told police Chief Todd Raybuck.
While there were talks between council members and Raybuck over providing funds to hire a new deputy chief, council members eventually chose to wait until a suitable candidate was found to make an allocation. The high-ranking position has been vacant since August 2022, when former Deputy Chief Stan Olsen resigned amid criticism relating to a loaded handgun found in his carry-on bag by Lihu‘e Airport security.
While most of the meeting ran smoothly, questions over the council’s powers arose after council Vice chair KipuKai Kuali‘i proposed including a clause to the budget limiting the use of departments’ unexpended salary funds.
Under his proposal, no county department would be able to use leftover salary funds for non-salary expenditures without council approval.
While all seven council members appeared to support the clause, County Attorney Matthew Bracken expressed concern over the legality of the proposal, suggesting it would interfere with the mayor’s powers.
“Once the budget’s created, to a certain extent, it’s out of your hands,” he explained to the council members.
The clause was eventually revised to require the mayor to report any use of unused salary funds for non-salary related purposes to the county council within 30 days, and passed unanimously.
Still, council members indicated interest in changing the county’s charter to grant the council greater control over such expenditures.
“A charter amendment will be forthcoming, for sure,” said Rapozo.
The council will hold a public hearing on the budget on Wednesday, May 24, before a final vote is taken.
Jackson Healy, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-4966 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: The Garden Island
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