By Nancy Cook Lauer West Hawaii Today email@example.com | Sunday, May 5, 2019, 12:05 a.m.
HILO — If Mayor Harry Kim has his way, more police will patrol the island, transfer stations won’t be closed on so many holidays, lines won’t be quite as long at vehicle registration and licensing offices, parks will be cleaner and oceans and swimming pools safer.
But it all comes at a price.
Mayor Harry Kim has added another 21 employees to his previous request of 72 in his final proposed budget sent Friday to the County Council.
The $583.9 million spending plan is 12.7% larger than last year’s budget and relies on fee increases and a general excise tax surcharge rather than an increase in property taxes. Some property owners, however, may pay more in taxes thanks to an average 3.2% increase in property values.
Kim has allocated money in the budget to remove seven holiday closures of transfer stations and landfill operations. And, $6.5 million in salaries and wages was added to reflect estimated increases coming from collective bargaining with the county’s public employee unions.
“The focus has been to improve customer service, including public safety,” Finance Director Deanna Sako said Friday. “We’re very aware the public has been waiting a long time for some of these, so the mayor put the focus there. He thought it was important.”
The newest proposed employees include three vehicle registration and licensing clerks, two new solid waste positions and two community resource police officers to help homeless individuals. In addition, there are four new lifeguards, paid with grant funds, as are eight fire and emergency response employees.
The previously requested new positions included 42 police officers. Twenty of the proposed police positions would be police field officers to be split between Puna and Ka‘u, and a police field officer for traffic enforcement in Kona, but there’s also nine sergeants, one lieutenant, five dispatchers, one supervising dispatcher, two evidence specialists, two information systems analysts and one records clerk.
A requested 10 wastewater employees would be paid with an increase in sewer fees. Seven new positions are in store for the Planning Department, to enforce the county’s new transient vacation rental ordinance.
The Department of Parks and Recreation would get six new positions, including one park caretaker each for Hamakua, North Kohala and Puna, as well as a recreation technician for Puna and a clerk and an account clerk in Hilo.
In addition, one pool lifeguard each in Kona and Puna will be converted from half-time to full time, a pool lifeguard in Hilo will be converted from three-fifths time to full time and a recreation technician in Kona will move from two-fifths time to full time.
The county as of June 30 had 2,457 full-time equivalent employees, down slightly from the 2,479 the year before, according to its comprehensive annual financial report.
The council, which has been grilling department heads over their requests, expenses and planned outcomes, will next tackle the revised budget, amending it or passing it outright in time for it to take effect July 1.
The council’s newest members have dived into the project with enthusiasm, perhaps forecasting major changes in the works.
“There’s a new and exciting vibe to this whole budget process,” said Council Chairman Aaron Chung.