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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 20, 2010

Big Island council wary of Kenoi plan

By Nancy Cook Lauer
West Hawaii Today

HILO, Hawai'i Some Hawai'i County Council members say they want greater assurances that a reorganized Transportation Agency won't mean higher costs.

The council was expected to propose amendments to the $376 million budget presented by Mayor Billy Kenoi for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Council members want to cut $23 million from the annual spending plan to avoid raising property taxes.

Kenoi proposes a reorganization that moves the Automotive Division of the Department of Public Works into the much smaller Mass Transit Agency. In his budget message to the County Council, the mayor portrays the transfer as a wash, with $4.47 million taken out of the DPW budget, and $4.46 million added to Mass Transit.

"This will consolidate similar activities in one department, particularly the vehicle repair activities, allowing for increased efficiency in processing equipment for repairs and fuel and vehicle usage countywide," Kenoi said. "No new positions have been added as a result of this reorganization, although one previously unfunded position will be budgeted for the coming year."

But documents obtained by West Hawaii Today show labor costs could jump by $150,000, when three workers receive pay raises and two vacancies are filled.

"I'm having a hard time seeing this as a wash," said Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann. "It does appear to me that there's some additional funds that have been allocated."

"I don't support it because it's going to drive our costs up during this dismal fiscal environment," Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford said. "Plus five people are going to get a raise; I just can't see that at this time."

Transit Operations Administrator Tom Brown, slated to head the new Transportation Agency, would see his pay grade rise four levels. He would earn at least $75,324 a year, up from the current minimum of $61,968.

Brown could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

A transportation specialist would get a yearly raise of at least $9,348, while the annual pay for an office manager would rise by $7,284 or more, based upon the base pay for each job.