Friday, October 31, 2014

BY CHELSEA JENSEN | WEST HAWAII TODAY

Mayor Billy Kenoi remained mum Tuesday about whether he will approve next fiscal year's $367 million operating budget.

"I'm taking a very good look at it and I will have a thorough and comprehensive reply," Kenoi told members of the Rotary Club of Kona Mauka. "I haven't made a final determination. There are a lot of questions when you send over a budget and it comes back with things nobody's ever seen happen before.

"Are services going to be maintained? Yes. Has county government been reduced in size and cost? Yes. Are there going to be raised taxes and a burden on our community? No," he continued.

Kenoi, who spoke to about two dozen club members at Teshima's Restaurant in Honalo, said his decision on the fiscal 2012-13 budget must be made by Thursday.

According to the county Charter, the mayor has 10 days, once he receives the budget bill, to sign it into law, allow it to become law without his signature or veto it. A two-thirds Hawaii County Council majority is needed to override a mayoral veto.

Kenoi said he was "baffled" when he received the County Council's budget that added $44,000 to the proposal he submitted May 5.

"I was waiting for reductions, I was waiting for cuts and I was waiting for specific proposals and I didn't get any," said Kenoi.

Kenoi said he doesn't understand why the council took $10 million for GASB-45 payments, or prepaid health costs for retired employees, from the "rainy day budget stabilization fund," when the county is not "mandated or obligated" to make payment at this time. Kenoi's original budget had sought to delay a $20 million payment until next year.

"There are a lot of misleading statements that have been put forth (with) one being the county is not meeting mandatory obligations," Kenoi said. "This is a voluntary payment like a prepayment on your mortgage. Are we meeting our retirement, health care and pension cost? Absolutely."

Kenoi also touted cuts, reductions and projects completed during his administration since he took office in late 2008. In the past three budget cycles, Kenoi said his administration has both reduced the cost and size of government each year.

In 2008, the county's operating budget was $403 million while the upcoming budget stands at $367 million -- a 9 percent reduction. With this year's budget, he's also cut 222 positions with 55 being chopped in his first year, 70 in the second year and 97 in the coming year, he said. He also noted a reduction in property tax collected from $225 million in 2008 to $207 million today.

cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com

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