Royal Hawaiian Band escapes budget axe — at least for now
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
The 174-year-old Royal Hawaiian Band is safe for now.
Bandmaster Michael Nakasone yesterday gave the City Council Budget Committee a brief presentation on the band's $1.9 million operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year, an 11.3 percent decrease over this year.
The committee did not discuss the possibility of eliminating the band, a suggestion council Budget Committee Chairman Nestor Garcia had earlier made as a cost-saving measure.
The council could still decide to kill off the second-oldest band in the United States, depending on how tight the city's revenue picture becomes, Garcia said after yesterday's hearing.
"The fate of the Royal Hawaiian Band, as with any other operational budget request, is going to hinge on whether or not we have the revenue to support whatever it is they're requesting," Garcia said.
The City Council's Budget Committee will wrap up two weeks of informational hearings with city departments and agencies today.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann's $1.82 billion operating budget for fiscal year 2010-11 is 1.2 percent higher than the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
But council members have yet to decide whether to accept Hannemann's property tax plan, which calls for giving owner-occupants a lower rate than absentee residential property owners, Garcia said. If the tax increase is rejected, the council would need to find $18 million elsewhere, he said.
Meanwhile, the Legislature has yet to decide whether it will take away transient accommodations tax dollars from the county, a move that would cost the city an additional $40 million, Garcia said.
"So it all hinges on the revenue picture," he said.
The Royal Hawaiian Band is not the only city agency that could face losses, but it is the oldest.
Founded in 1836 by King Kamehameha III, it's the only band in the U.S. with a royal legacy. It is believed to be the second-oldest band in the U.S. The U.S. Marine Band was founded in 1798, according to the Marine Band's Web site.
The cut in the budget reflects the two-day-a-month furloughs that other city agencies are also facing. There are five vacancies in the 40-member band, and Nakasone said he intends to fill three of them.
"Each of the musician positions in the band is important, as this is barely an adequate number of musicians to fulfill the needs of a concert band with the workload the Royal Hawaiian Band is tasked with," Nakasone told council members.
The band in recent years has played 320 concerts a year, including weekly performances at both the 'Iolani Palace Bandstand on Fridays and Kapi'olani Park Bandstand on Sundays.
Nakasone said he wants to continue that output in the coming year while navigating through the furlough days.
On the Big Island, Mayor Billy Kenoi had proposed eliminating the Hawai'i County Band in his initial budget, but now is saying he'll try to save it.
BIG ISLE HEARING
While the Royal Hawaiian Band is full time, the Hawai'i County Band is part time. Formed in 1883, the band has 34 musicians in Hilo and 11 in Kona. As a result, the Hawai'i County Band budget is only $347,027 annually.
The Hawai'i County Council was scheduled to hold a public hearing last night on the fate of the band at the County Building in Hilo.
Kenoi, in an editorial that ran in Sunday's Hawaii Tribune-Herald, said he wants to look at "alternative" ways of funding the band. "If not tax dollars, then perhaps creative ways to continue such a worthy, time-honored institution can be explored," Kenoi wrote.
Supporters have started a "Save the Hawaii County Band" online petition, which had gathered 6,086 names as of yesterday.