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Committee: Restrict funds to nonprofits


Tribune-Herald staff writer

A proposal to prevent nonprofits from tapping the County Council’s contingency funds narrowly received a favorable nod Tuesday from council members.

The council’s Finance Committee voted 5-3 to give the bill a positive recommendation, which will be next considered at a regular council meeting.

Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi said he introduced the bill to focus use of the funds on district necessities. He also said he doesn’t think nonprofit organizations, which have their own grant program, need “two avenues” for county funds.

The funds, given to each council member for use in their districts, were eliminated four years ago partly as a budget-trimming measure.

They were re-introduced this fiscal year, and each council member is receiving $98,877 for their district.

Onishi said he is also concerned about money being distributed in exchange for political support.

“I want to keep the (politics) out of it,” he said at the meeting.

“By having this, it will give us more transparency of where the funding is going to be spent.”

Several council members raised concerns with the bill or spoke against it, noting that expenditures of the funds require approval by the full council.

South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford said the bill would “micromanage” council members.

Ford said she has used her fund before to assist nonprofits, including one that established a keiki dental clinic.

“This would restrict us from helping the non-profits who need the most help,” she said.

Onishi said he is not opposed to increasing grant funding for nonprofits, but he doesn’t think the contingency funds are the right place for them to seek help.

“How are you going to say no when 10 nonprofits come to you?” he said. “That’s what is going to happen.”

Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter noted that her district includes communities that rely on private infrastructure, including parks in some cases.

She said the bill would prevent her from assisting the nonprofit groups that handle those services.

“If we want to talk about fairness, let’s be fair to everyone and everyone’s district,” Poindexter said.

Councilwoman Karen Eoff said there is a non-profit group that wants to create a veterans memorial that could be helped by the fund.

“I’m concerned that without this opportunity, Parks and (Recreation) will not be able to help with this project,” she said.

As a compromise, Council Chair J Yoshimoto proposed restricting non-profits awarded grant funding from accessing those funds.

Ford said she supported that idea.

Poindexter, Ford and Eoff voted against the bill.

Yoshimoto was absent for the vote.

The bill requires two votes by the council and the mayor’s signature to be adopted.

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