Wednesday, January 17, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, January 17, 2001

Mayors ask for more contractors, dollars

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser City Hall Writer

Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris is asking legislators to grant county governments more power to hire private companies when it’s cheaper and more efficient than using public employees.

Without a change in the law, Harris said, the counties will on June 30 lose authority to continue such contracting.

Harris and the mayors of Maui County, Kauai and the Big Island appeared before the Legislature’s money committees: House Finance and Senate Ways and Means. It was their yearly visit to ask the state for help.

After the meeting, Senate Ways and Means Chairman Brian Taniguchi and House Finance Chairman Dwight Takamine said they would need to hear from the labor committees about some of the effects the proposals might have.

Takamine said lawmakers need to evaluate the changes made in a modest civil service reform measure passed last years to "see how well they worked."

Harris also said laws must be changed to achieve what he called "common-sense reform." He gave the example of the county calling a worker in on a Sunday for one hour and being forced to pay him for eight hours at overtime rates, the equivalent of 12 hours of regular pay.

But Maui Mayor James "Kimo" Apana said he believes that situation can be avoided by notifying workers in advance when their schedules must be changed to tackle various jobs.

After the meeting, Apana said he believed counties could work out in negotiations with unions many of the labor issues Harris raised and did not need to change laws.

But Harris said if the counties must do all jobs with government employees instead of private companies, "it will cost millions more, possibly, for us to do that job." Years of declining property tax revenue, he said, have left counties unable to afford that.

The city contracts out for janitorial, landscaping and parking services, among others. "All we’re looking for in this managed competition is the ability to continue to contract out work when it can be done more cost-effectively by the private sector," Harris said.

Without the additional flexibility, he added, property tax increases might be required.

Big Island Mayor Harry Kim asked for help with construction projects. His highest priority was $12 million to close the Hilo Landfill (as required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) and to plan solid waste disposal options.

Apana called on the state to take the lead in social services reform and to pass on a fair share of the public service company tax to counties. He also asked legislators to help protect his county from lawsuits that frequently come from people using beaches. "Unless something positive is done in the area of recreational liability for the counties, we will always be subject to litigation," he said.

Kauai Mayor Maryanne Kusaka asked for more of the hotel room tax to help counties pay tourism-related costs. She also asked for more state help for what she said were poorly-maintained state-owned attractions such as the Fern Grotto and Kokee State Park.

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