City belt-tightening required
By Romy Cachola
City Councilman, District 7 (Kalihi-Moanalua)
Over the past 18 months, the city appropriated a significant amount of Capital Improvement Program funds at the request of special interest groups, neighborhood boards and private citizens to purchase various land parcels for park use, to preserve open space and for other public uses. There were other land-acquisition requests prior to 1999 that we are still acting on, foremost of which are Golf Course 5 and 6 parcels near the Ka Iwi Shoreline.
The courts in this case already have ruled that the city is liable for damages. This case, which was initiated and supported by special interest groups, will likely cost the city a substantial amount that it cannot afford to pay in cash, especially during these uncertain economic times. In addition, the city's share of the hotel room tax likely will be lower than previous years because of the lower visitor count due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Coupled with this, the city already is hard-pressed to pay for the maintenance and repair of 365 parks that total more than 6,000 acres on O'ahu. In addition, the Department of Budget & Fiscal Services predicts the city's debt service on bonds and other outstanding government loans will nearly double, from $107 million in 2001 to $207 million by 2006.
The good news is that we have not cut back on city services or raised real property taxes despite the city's financial obligations. The bad news is that the city's financial bubble eventually will burst if we keep accumulating land, thus increasing our debt service.
This increased debt service burden, coupled with lower revenues, may result in a substantial increase in real property tax rates and/or cuts in city services in the near future. In order to lessen the severity of these measures, we need to curb capital expenditures, including expenditures for land acquisition.
Given the city's limited resources and current uncertain economic times, I strongly recommend the city administration and council to re-evaluate future requests using a policy that prioritizes land acquisitions.
I propose that the city acquire land or property interests subject to the following priorities, in order of importance:
- Protect the public from unsafe natural conditions or environmental hazards.
- Provide necessary public and transit system infrastructure.
- Lead to the development of necessary government buildings, such as fire stations and police stations.
- Provide parks in areas with limited access to park facilities.
- Provide necessary parking lots.
- Allow land banking for future park use.
- Allow for conservation easements.
Hopefully, implementation of this policy will delay a raise in real property taxes and/or reductions in city services.
Requests for land acquisition for the sake of preserving open space or providing public access are noble, but government cannot afford to be all things to all people, unless these groups and individuals are willing to share in the costs and/or support a hike in real property taxes.
The most prudent course of action during these uncertain economic times and increasing government expenditures is to promote fiscal conservatism. I, therefore, urge the city administration and Council to continue fiscal belt-tightening.