Councilwoman: Budget is a ‘sham’
By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Hawaii County Councilwoman Margaret Wille had heard enough.
Before noon on Friday, the third straight day of budget talks, the Kohala representative had grown tired of the cadre of department heads highlighting needs not met in the proposed budget, and decided it was time to speak her mind.
During what is supposed to be time for the council to ask staff questions about their supplementary requests, Wille, one of several freshman council members, let her protest of Mayor Billy Kenoi’s fiscal plan be heard.
“The bottom line is I think this whole budget is a sham,” she said out of frustration while addressing representatives of the Parks and Recreation Department.
Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter, who was chairing the Finance Committee meeting, interrupted Wille, noting that she was out of step with the council’s rules of order and decorum.
“I don’t want this to be an attack session,” she said.
“And, please watch your behavior or I’ll have to read the rules of decorum into the record.”
Wille then amended her comment to being “very disappointed” with the budget proposal, adding that the Parks and Recreation Department’s list of 80 unfilled positions is “unacceptable.”
“We’re getting way passed what is essential services,” she said.
Puna Councilman Zendo Kern came to the administration’s defense, saying their job is to offer a balanced budget.
“Income and expenses have to match,” he said. “Departments are making cuts to try to provide the basic services that we need.”
Wille told the Tribune-Herald that she made the statement to “acknowledge that current finances are not covering needs.”
“Everyone has differences with what words they feel are appropriate,” she said, when asked about her word choice.
Wille said she would like the administration to provide a budget that meets demands for service as a starting point.
The $370.8 million Kenoi has proposed is 1.5 percent larger than the 2012 budget. But, due to decreased revenue, is 8 percent lower than when he took office in 2008.
Kenoi was not at the meeting, but he said in a phone interview that Wille’s comment was inaccurate.
“Everyone would like to say yes and provide more programs and services, and that costs money,” he said. “The council needs to make difficult decisions as our department heads and our administration.”
Whether Kenoi’s budget includes the right decisions will be up for the council to determine.
During meetings this week, many department heads said they are having to do a lot more than what their funding can cover.
On Friday, Hele-On acting Administrator Tiffany Kai said the bus system is in need of more mechanics and noted that they have resulted to quick fixes in some cases and cannibalising buses for parts.
Parks and Recreation Director Clayton Honma said the department is offering a “status quo” budget, but is requesting $532,524 in additional funds for equipment.
Honma told the Tribune-Herald the department wants the equipment, which includes a pick-up truck with a dumper and mini excavator, to increase efficiency.
“It would be nice to have both in a perfect world,” he said, referring to the purchases and filling in vacant positions.
During the meeting, Poindexter also used her authority as committee chair to interrupt Councilwoman Brenda Ford.
Ford had asked Honma about the possibility of using a program through the National Guard to build bus shelters. Poindexter cut her off when she started talking about her proposal to use the National Guard’s help with other department needs.
“I want to keep it focused on the department that’s before us,” she said.
That appeared to not sit well Ford, who put her head into her hand and groaned out of frustration.
“I hope you’re not timing this,” she said to staff, referring to her allotted time to speak.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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