Mayor's plan pushes core services
Mayor Mufi Hannemann yesterday stuck to his "nuts-and-bolts" blueprint in outlining his plan for Honolulu in the coming year, but he will still propose a record $1.49 billion operating budget to tackle basic needs from sewers to parks and public health and safety issues.
Members of the City Council generally praised Hannemann's approach in his second State of the City address, but some questioned the record operating budget and the lack of specifics in such areas as the Waimanalo Gulch landfill and tax relief.
Councilman Charles Djou said Hannemann deserves to be commended for focusing on basics.
"I don't think the city can afford doing many big, bold things right now," Djou said.
While the mayor proposed no bold initiatives, he left the door open to relief from soaring property taxes. But he cautioned that the city needs the money, too, and residents need to have realistic expectations.
He said cutting taxes is popular but comes at the price of reduced services. "If we're willing to do with less, we can cut property taxes, we can reduce fees," Hannemann said.
Joseph Otto, 62, a Kapahulu resident and member of the Diamond Head/Kapahulu/St. Louis Heights Neighborhood Board, said he likes the way the mayor and the City Council are dealing with the property tax issue and they shouldn't act too quickly.
"The mayor is conscientiously trying to look for satisfactory answers to deal with a difficult problem, as well as the City Council," Otto said. Otto likes the proposal to figure out the budget and adjust the tax rates according to what is needed. "That's the easiest, quickest and fairest way to do it because it treats everybody with equity," he said.
Among Hannemann's specific proposals was a $2 million community benefits package for the Leeward Coast to help compensate for the odor, noise and other problems linked to hosting O'ahu's only municipal landfill. Hannemann proposed that the package be split between grants for the district and construction projects.
He said the city also is committed to improving the Wai'anae police station and completing the Wai'anae emergency access road.
Jo Jordan, a Wai'anae resident for 34 years, called the mayor's benefits package "a slap in the face" filled with buzzwords that attempt to mollify a community that she said has been neglected for decades, given crumbs for capital improvement projects and now faces two new private landfills operating there.
Over the decades, the community has been promised a new police station, an emergency road and most recently a benefits package that officials were supposed to be discussing with community members, Jordan said. Now the mayor wants to dictate the terms of the benefits package that she said won't materialize.
"They haven't come through in the last 10 years on any packages for us. Why would I think another year would make any difference?" Jordan asked.
"When it cost $800,000 to build a toilet in a beach park, $2 million is nothing," she said.
Hannemann said the increased budget — the details of which will be announced next week — will be needed to keep up, catch up and continue to move forward on core services, some that were put off for years.
"Problems that once would have cost a few bucks to fix now require thousands, if not millions, of our dollars," Hannemann said.
He repeated his first-year priority mantra: "That's why we're tackling the need-to-have, not the nice-to-have."
Djou said he was disappointed that the speech contained no tax relief proposal and a big budget. "A 32 percent increase in the CIP budget, 10 percent increase in the operating budget ... that's huge," Djou said.
Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi found the speech upbeat and wide-ranging, but noted that Hannemann lacked specifics on his property tax proposals. "That was kind of curious," she said.
City Councilman Gary Okino praised the speech as realistic and a "pull no punches" approach to government.
Okino noted that the 10 percent proposed budget increase would set another record for city budget spending. However, he said, Hannemann sent a message that he was open to working with the council to find solutions.
Okino said he figures that Hannemann will become more specific about his plans for dealing with the landfill and other waste issues later, especially if he vetoes the bill passed by the council to force the administration to close the Waimanalo Gulch landfill in 2008.
Hannemann said he's still analyzing that move, since the council had endorsed the landfill site just 14 months before. "I had no idea they were going to reverse their landfill decision," Hannemann said.
Hannemann touted his increase in bulky-item pickup as well as a plan next week to begin green-waste pickup in the unused blue bins from curbside recycling. He said that was the most cost-effective way of recycling.
Sierra Club Hawai'i chapter director Jeff Mikulina criticized Hannemann's estimate that it would cost $300 annually for each household to begin curbside recycling on O'ahu but remove only 20,000 tons of waste annually.
"Mayor Hannemann is misleading residents when he says that curbside recycling will cost them $300 per household," Mikulina said.
Based on bids received earlier by the city, Mikulina estimated the curbside program to cost closer to $25 annually per household.
Hannemann said he strives for cooperation and collaboration and has felt that pay off in finding solutions. He pointed with pride to the city's role in preserving Waimea Valley from development through a joint effort with organizations and citizens.