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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 21, 2003

New user fees rejected by council

 •  Council expected to raise bus fares

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Staff Writer

The City Council's latest budget proposal eliminates Mayor Jeremy Harris' request to increase several user fees and instead calls for charging fees for special events at city parks and the Blaisdell Center.

City Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi said the council wanted to avoid cutting money for public safety.

Advertiser library photo

In addition, the council budget proposal calls for selling the city's downtown municipal parking lot known as Block J to help make up for not increasing user fees.

The council's budget proposal that also trims city programs was unveiled yesterday by Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi.

But city Budget Director Ivan Lui-Kwan said the new budget proposal "is in chaos and is out of balance."

The council must approve a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 by June 15. The council will hear testimony on its new proposal tomorrow and Friday. The final council vote is scheduled for June 4.

The Harris administration had proposed a $1.178 billion budget, but the council's proposal calls for about $5 million in cuts to current expenses for all city departments, except those that provide public safety. "We protected those departments because those are our core services," Kobayashi said.

However, she said money the administration earmarked to restore vacant positions cut from the police and fire departments will instead provide arbitrated pay raises to the city's 1,000 firefighters. "We're not going to be able to restore the administration's cuts," she said.

Lui-Kwan said the council's budget proposal is flawed because two items are double counted: The revenues from the sale of Block J were included in this year's budget that will be carried over to the next budget year, while increased rental fees at the Blaisdell Center have been calculated in the administration's budget proposal.

He also called $1.4 million in anticipated revenue from user fees at city parks a "wild overstatement," especially since the council has cut financing for sports marketing to attract out-of-town leagues to the city's new sports facilities. Kobayashi said she arrived at that figure by calculating the operational fees for Central O'ahu Regional Park, the Waipi'o Peninsula Soccer Complex and the Hans L'Orange Baseball Facility.

The Budget Committee will likely accept the property tax rate increase proposed by Harris, but will reject at least five new user fees that were expected to generate more than $13 million in revenue.

On the chopping block:

  • An $8 fee for second-day refuse pickup included in a curbside residential proposal that will also be shelved.
  • A $2 fee for counter service at satellite city halls for transactions that could be taken care of over the Internet or by mail.
  • An increase to the fees for spaying and neutering cats and dogs under a city program.
  • A fee for commercial vehicles entering Hanauma Bay.
  • Increased charges for refuse haulers to tip their trash into the landfills and H-Power.

Lui-Kwan said the cuts used to offset the loss of revenue from these fees will have a "severe impact on necessary services."

The city would not be able to comply with a federal law requiring it to keep its storm drains clean and would have to halt weekend trash collection in Waikiki and downtown, he said. In addition, while the council has said the budget cuts would not lead to any layoffs, Harris contends that cuts to salaries mean the loss of two jobs in the managing director's office and one employee in the Department of Planning and Permitting.

Referring to Kobayashi's portrayal of the administration's budget proposal as a "phantom budget," Harris said of the council's latest draft, "These are really phantom savings, if you will."

Reach Treena Shapiro at tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.