Council may limit contingency funds


By NANCY COOK LAUER

Stephens Media Hawaii

Now that each County Council member gets a $98,877 contingency fund, Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi wants to be sure the money goes for district necessities rather than donated to nonprofits.

Onishi is sponsoring a bill to repeal provisions in county code that allow nonprofits to be given donations from the fund. The bill will be heard by the council Finance Committee, which meets at 1:45 p.m. Tuesday in Hilo.

Onishi said he’s sponsoring the bill because he remembers that when the council had the contingency fund in the past, nonprofits often asked for donations from it.

“This discretionary fund should be used for county projects,” Onishi said. “We should keep the two separate.”

Examples of projects from the contingency fund include volleyball nets, scoreboards, speed bumps, overtime for police for speed traps and other projects that are needed but might have been overlooked in the annual budget, he said.

The contingency funds were once a part of the council budget but were eliminated four years ago because of the down economy and also in part because of how the money was used.

Each council member used to get $300,000, but Mayor Billy Kenoi this year proposed $100,000 per council member.

The council, in amending the budget, reduced that amount when it allocated $10,100 from the total to ensure the Ocean View council videoconferencing site could remain open.

The original purpose of the fund was to have money available, so if a scoreboard broke in the middle of the budget year, for example, the county department could go to the councilor whose district it was and ask for money to repair it.

“We believe the $100,000 is a reasonable amount given the size of the council districts,” Kenoi said at the time. “The administration will play an oversight role to ensure the funds will be used to benefit the community and not used as a campaign or slush fund in any way.”

Spending from the contingency funds has to be approved by the department and also the County Council.

County code already requires at least $1 million be allocated annually for nonprofts. The current budget, as well as most recent ones, have allocated $1.5 million for that purpose.

Nonprofits compete for money from the fund each year through an application and interview process.

“To me, for nonprofits, they should go through a process where they can go and request funds,” Onishi said. “If the demand is there from the nonprofits, then maybe in the next budget we can raise it to $2 million, or $2.5 million.”

Council Chairman J Yoshimoto agrees the topic is timely.

He said he also was approached by nonprofits seeking contributions back when the fund was available. Yoshimoto said it’s important that nonprofits go through the vetting process, to make it fair for everybody.

“I think it’s a good idea worth discussing,” Yoshimoto said. “We should set parameters for any use of public funds.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

 

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