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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 26, 2005

Plans to hike city fees face no fight

 •  Chart: Fees for city services to increase

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

In addition to a sewer service fee that will climb for the next decade and a higher vehicle weight tax that together would affect virtually every household on O'ahu, the Honolulu City Council yesterday put the final details on a slate of city fee increases that also would hit developers and even filmmakers.

With just over a week to go before the council's final vote on the proposed city budget, little opposition has emerged to the fee increases or other major components of Mayor Mufi Hannemann's no-frills plan. From the start, most council members have said they believe the increases are inevitable.

Council approval is expected on June 6, and that would clear the way for the higher charges to go into effect July 1, the start of the city's new fiscal year.

Residents would feel the increases right away, with sewer fees rising 25 percent, or about $8 per month on the average monthly sewer fee — from $33 to $41 — in July.

They, too, seem inclined to accept the increases. No one from the public protested the increases or even signed up to comment at yesterday morning's hearings.

City Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi said she believes that's because most people are resigned to the fact that some fees need to be raised to pay for such basic city services as sewers, roads and public safety. Others likely were too busy working to attend a workday meeting, she said.

"I'm sure people are very worried," Kobayashi said. "We are worried about all these increases."

But she said people also are aware that running the city costs money. "I think most people are aware that the sewer has to be maintained," Kobayashi said.

Waialua resident Ray Ford wrote to The Advertiser to say that he can understand why fees must go up. "It may be reasonable to upgrade the aging infrastructure," he said. But Ford is frustrated to see all the fees going up and knowing that the increases won't get his rural community connected to a sewer system.

In March, Hannemann proposed a record $1.3 billion operating budget plus a $497 million construction budget. Hannemann has said that fee increases have been delayed for too long and that the city is playing catch-up on those as well as on money for repairs and maintenance to sewers, roads and other core services that were put off by by his predecessor, former Mayor Jeremy Harris.

The council budget committee yesterday approved bills for each of the five proposed fee increases. The bills would:

• Increase the commercial filming fee for major or national and nonlocal movie or TV filming in city parks or recreational facilities to $300 a day, up from a token fee of $10 a day.

• Increase the fee charged to developers to hook up to the sewer system. Under the proposal, the fee would increase from $4,641 per unit today to $5,541 per unit by 2010-11.

• Raise the vehicle weight tax by 50 percent, to 3 cents a pound. For the owner of an average car, that would increase the tax by about $30 a year, city officials have said. The tax is paid when residents register their vehicles.

• Double Honolulu sewer fees over six years from the current monthly average of $33. After an initial 25 percent increase this year, the fee would rise 10 percent more in each of the next five years if the council approves the measure next month.

City environmental services director Eric Takamura has said he expects more increases will be needed for the four years after that, eventually pushing the average fee to more than $83 a month, an increase of 150 percent over 10 years.

• Raise the rates for nonprofit organizations that rent such city facilities as Blaisdell Center's Arena and Concert Hall and the Waikiki Shell. City Enterprise Services director Sidney A. Quintal said the nonprofits — including schools that rent the facilities for graduations — are paying less than a third of what it costs the city to open and staff such an event. Quintal has said that fee would increase by 15 percent to 20 percent each year for five years.

Councilwoman Barbara Marshall asked if the nonprofits, including the Honolulu Symphony, were aware of what they are facing.

"That's an awful huge increase," Marshall said.

Quintal said the organizations are aware of the increases. "We have not had any adverse testimony," he said.

In other budget news, Hannemann officials yesterday notified the council that the city has found the money to cover the $4.3 million shortfall in salaries discussed at a Tuesday budget committee meeting.

Hannemann said $2 million would come from a fund used to pay for salary adjustments and vacation pay; $2 million from what the city expects to collect in delinquent property taxes from previous years; and $300,000 from the recent settlement of a disputed contract.

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2429.