The yearly ritual of city budget hearings – OPERATING PROGRAM and BUDGET and CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM and BUDGET – began in March and will finalize by June.
Cities fall or city flourish on its budgetary health. Generally, the American public is not too enthusiastic with mathematics. Not much is questioned or vetted by the public.
Usually, there is hardly any outside attention on this 3-month review and approval process even though this is the fundamental infrastructure that keeps City Hall alive. This budget process is usually an in-house affair.
However, this year brings a lot of attention to the City Council’s 64% salary increase. Many in the public have submitted opposing testimony. Unfortunately, they have been told the issue is not on the agenda. The salary increase will become automatic come July 1, 2023 if the City Council does not question the Honolulu Salary Commission’s recommendation.
Department Directors or Deputy Directors present their annual budgets before the City Council Budget Committee. These proposals are voted upon by the entire council with three Readings and adopted.
Public residents who are particularly interested in obtaining funding for their special project may also advocate for their own. This year, I find it sad to watch a constituent from Waianae having to lobby hard for a public restroom! That should be a basic amenity for our communities.
The most significant chunk of the budget involves 22.96% is for Retirement and Pension Contributions. You can see more specific details on page 47 in this budget submission.
The debt service for the city is 19.26% – page 12.
Note also the Federal Funds too on the bottom of Page 1
Look for “planning and design” costs. It’s the basis for just about every proposed project. Whether a project is successfully completed or come to fruition or not, “planning and design” contracts are a basic initial requirement with many consultants involved.
For this year’s budget, there is a new $500,000 to plan and design a landfill on Oahu. But everything is still under wraps as to where the landfill site is going to be located. This landfill location search has a long history.
Fire stations are also a staple budget item yearly. There are new fire stations being built to replace older ones. It’s usually a new built and not a renovation project.
For example: In 2020, The Waialua fire station relocation was reported by KHON2:
HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Honolulu Fire Department (HFD) announced today that the department acquired a new property, which will be the future site of the Waialua Fire Station.
The property was acquired from the Dole Food Company, Inc. and the sale is scheduled to close Friday, April 17. The property is located on Lot 463 at the corner of Waialua Beach Road and Goodale Avenue.
The new fire station will occupy more than 5.3 acres of land at a cost of $1,330,000. The acquisition commenced in July 2019 and took approximately 10 months to complete. The new fire station will replace the present Waialua Fire Station, which was built in 1933 and is located at 66-420 Haleʻiwa Road.”
But in 2023, KHON2 reported : “But in January 2022, HFD’s new administration realized the land was in a tsunami evacuation zone.
“There was an oversight on that property, basically it’s in a tsunami zone so we can’t build a fire station on that property,” said Acting Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Mokulehua.
“My first concern I guess is what you call oversight I call a lack of accountability and what will prevent that from the next place,” said a North Shore resident.”
The city budget has a long list of items. I’m not sure how much adoption is based on affinity trust or status quo or if there ever is a scalpel action to any of the requests with neutral vetting with priorities, needs, and wants.
The only public citizen that I know of who has been doggedly looking over the budget items is CPA and a Certified Fraud Examiner Natalie Iwasa. Even then, her concerns are usually not taken into consideration.
Take a look at the budget. Flip through them. What do you think of the priorities? How much is spent on other areas? What about the Honolulu Rapid Transit expenses?
What about housing? Is it time for the city to define what affordable housing is? Who is the affordable housing for? How affordable is affordable? Those were the questions I posed in to the council.
What about road maintenance? With all the millions of dollars that have been poured into roadwork, shouldn’t the city ask for a work warranty from the contractors? That was my question posed to at one of the budget hearings.
Andrew T. Kawano, Director of the Department of Budget and Fiscal Services, at 768-3901. He has a very set fiscal philosophy. It continues to be tax and spend. Obviously his appointed position is to echo the Blangiardi Administration. Unfortunately, there is no appearance of a willingness to cut out any pork and insist on a lean spending.