Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann issued the following statement after the County Council failed to veto Mayor Billy Kenoi’s budget:
Happy New Fiscal Year (2011-2012) to you all. The County has managed to stumble into July and has survived the budget struggles of the past two months.
Permit me a few observations on the results and the process:
The Mayor’s May 5 budget becomes effective today, July 1. It is a balanced budget, but doesn’t save anything as far as expenses are concerned. It defers some liabilities.
There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as the total deferments are not too large, and we don’t encourage this as a habit. I think we are reasonably on solid ground at least in this fiscal year, but we shouldn’t use GASB-45 as a ‘bill-payer’ again next year.
One can only wonder why the Mayor would use GASB-45 deferments as the centerpiece of his budget balancing act this year, when he was so stubbornly opposed to this same suggestion that I made previously? If we had adopted this recommendation, we might not have had to raise property tax rates.
Unlike a few of my Council colleagues who expressed indignation at the Corporation Counsel’s letters about the amended budget, I see this as another example of mayoral politics.
Let’s face it, the Mayor won this battle, let’s move on. No one associated with the budget process or with the County Charter can find anything illegal in what the Council did. Unprecedented perhaps, but hardly illegal. County residents were treated to some political ‘smoke and mirrors’ and as a result the veto could not be overridden.
It’s hard to fathom why the Mayor could not or would not exercise some discretion on the Council’s amended budget. There seemed to be at least a few Council amendments that should have been ‘saved’. But it appears to many that the Mayor’s message is simply: “do it my way or not at all.”
Sad to think this poses as effective leadership for our County. Of course, we can revisit some of the issues during the coming months (the police radio proposal for example), but why go through the process once again? This is not the spirit of cooperation anticipated from the Mayor nor is it good management. County residents deserve better.
I am pleased to see that the Mayor is recommending some flexibility in regard to furloughs in the coming years. Both the Council and administration are not willing as yet to face the 800-pound gorilla in the room, i.e. reductions in staff. If economic conditions do not improve, this must be addressed.
Let me repeat, I do not advocate any reductions at this time, however, it is utter nonsense to talk about real savings if we do not include a reduction in personnel costs from that equation.
Furloughs seem to be one alternative. Some won’t admit it, but the County’s ‘Furlough Friday Program’ of the past two years brought savings to County taxpayers, did not result in any significant reduction in County services, and County employees retained their jobs, and perhaps as important, their medical and other benefits. I believe this is the direction the County must pursue and I’m pleased to see the Mayor make the effort.
There is another aspect of the budget battle that should be mentioned. It came up briefly in yesterday’s Council discussions, but I think it failed to register on many. The Council had recommended that any savings that might occur in the on-going union negotiations be used to offset the GASB-45 deferment. It is unknown if any reductions in salaries/personnel costs will be achieved in this fiscal year.
The mayor’s budget fully funded the current payroll scale for all County employees so there is some hope that actual expenses will be less. I trust that if some savings are realized, the Mayor will act on the Council’s recommendation and some payment made to the GASB-45 account.
In summary, let’s get on with business. There’s much to be done and although this budget is finished, the County’s economic distress remains.
I continue to hope that when addressing these issues in the coming months, ALL will emphasize leadership and the best interests of our County residents and leave politics and political agendas behind.
I trust I am not too optimistic.