By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The Hawaii County Council is sticking with a new mileage policy that allows members to receive $350 a month no matter how much they drive.
Council Chairman J Yoshimoto had changed the rules last month to allow members to either receive that amount as a lump sum or be reimbursed on a per-mile basis.
Council members choosing the latter option would receive 55 cents per mile.
The council was only using per-mile reimbursement before the change, though a flat rate of $600 had once been tried.
Councilwoman Brenda Ford introduced a resolution last month to continue the cost-per-mile policy.
Yoshimoto made the policy change after the resolution was first discussed Dec. 18. He noted that several members spoke in favor of a flat-rate option.
The council voted down Ford’s resolution 2-7 Wednesday. Ford and Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille voted yes.
Ford opposed the flat-rate option but called it a “dead issue” after the vote.
She said she is concerned that council members who represent small districts or don’t have to travel far for meetings could receive much more than they need.
“It’s equivalent to a nice fat salary increase,” Ford told the Tribune-Herald.
Yoshimoto said he has concerns with how much council members can accrue if reimbursed on a per-mile basis, and referenced a single payment of $1,081 to former Ka‘u Councilwoman Brittany Smart last year.
But Yoshimoto said he didn’t propose only using a flat rate because that would likely require a change to the county code.
“I’m encouraging everyone to use the flat rate,” he said. “It’s something more predictable.”
The county spent $7,996 reimbursing council members for vehicle expenses last year through November, according to expense records. That works out to $80.76 per month for each council member, much lower than the flat rate now offered.
Still, few council members regularly sought any payment, according to the records.
On average, only three of the nine council members filed for mileage reimbursement each month. Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi and former council members, Dominic Yagong and Fred Blas didn’t file for reimbursement last year.
How much mileage council members rack up depends on how far they have to drive to meetings in Hilo and Kailua-Kona or travel their districts for county business.
Smart, who represented the largest and one of the most isolated districts, received $2,247 in 2012, the most of any council member. She received the $1,081 payment in January 2012. Her next payment was $8.25 in March.
Ford, who represented South Kona last year, received $2,163. Her district now includes Ka‘u, South Kona and a portion of North Kona.
Former Councilman Pete Hoffmann received $1,640. He represented Kohala.
Former Councilman Angel Pilago of North Kona received $1,194; former Hilo Councilman Donald Ikeda received $412; and Yoshimoto of Hilo received $180.
None of the council members indicated which formula they would use or whether they planned to seek payments for vehicle expenses.
Yoshimoto said he will monitor mileage expenses and “see how it goes.”
At the Hilo meeting, the council also passed a resolution prohibiting upzoning in Pahoa until the Pahoa Regional Town Center Plan is adopted and authorized $500,000 be spent on designing and planning a new event center for Hilo.
The zoning moratorium doesn’t apply to pending development applications.
The funds for a new event center would be obtained through bonds, the capital projects fund, or other sources.
Former Councilman Donald Ikeda had proposed building a new facility in Hilo before he left office last month.
Bob Fitzgerald, county Parks and Recreation deputy director, said the town could support another event center, and noted that existing facilities are aging.
“The facilities we have we’re repairing them and fixing them because we own them but we’re looking down the future with this and I think the town could justify” a new event center, he said.
Once funds are secured, Fitzgerald said the Parks and Recreation Department would form a group of stakeholders, such as the University of Hawaii at Hilo, Merrie Monarch Festival and hotels, to discuss design and planning.
The council held a discussion on the Public Land Development Corporation on Tuesday during a Planning Committee meeting but took no action.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.