Mayor Kenoi Proposes Balanced Hawaii County Budget

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By Guest Contributor

Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi has submitted his fiscal year 2012 to the County Council that reduces the size of and cost of government.


What follows is his budget message:

As required by the Hawai‘i County Charter, submitted with this message is the proposed operating budget for the County of Hawai‘i for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012.  This balanced budget includes estimated revenues and appropriations of $366,128,670 and includes the operations of eleven of the County’s special funds as well as the general fund.

This proposed fiscal year 2011-2012 budget is $37,076,328 or 9.2% percent less than the budget in effect when this administration took office in 2008. This budget proposal marks the third consecutive year of our program to reduce the size and cost of government in a strategic, responsible manner that maintains critical infrastructure and public services.

The lingering effects of the national recession of 2007-2009 will once again reduce county tax collections and other revenues in the year ahead. While the economic recovery appears to be gaining strength in parts of the state, our challenge today is the same as it was in the first two years of my administration: We must find ways to reduce government to make it more affordable without abandoning essential services for our children, our senior citizens and our neediest populations.  We must also protect public safety, giving our police officers, firefighters and civil defense workers the tools they need to respond quickly and effectively to any threat to our communities, and to protect our families.

The safety and well-being of our residents and the quality of life in our communities also depend on our ability to carefully reduce county spending in a responsible, effective manner. Our budget must fund essential services, while demonstrating fiscal discipline.

This proposed budget meets those challenges without increasing property taxes.

Collecting Less Taxes

In the coming year, the County of Hawai‘i will once again collect less in property taxes than it collected when this administration began in 2008. Tax collections in 2008-09 totaled $225.9 million, while budgeted tax collections for the coming year are $207.3 million. This continuing slide in tax collections has been coupled with years of cost increases in areas such as employee health care and retirement costs, utilities and fuel. It will cost us more to deliver the same services next year that we delivered this year, and we will have less money available next year to provide those services.

This pattern creates the continuing budget shortfalls, which represent the difference between the projected cost of providing government services, and the anticipated revenue that will be available to fund those services.   This administration has coped with budget shortfalls that are unprecedented in county history. We faced a $38.1 million shortfall in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, a $44.8 million shortfall in this fiscal year, and we now contend with a $38.8 million shortfall for next year.

We have dealt with those combined shortfalls of more than $121 million over three years by engaging in a three-year program to roll back government, and to make it more affordable.

Reducing County Spending

This budget marks the third consecutive year this administration has reduced spending. This administration dramatically reduced spending on consulting contracts by 48 percent for a savings of more than $6 million in fiscal 2010. Overtime spending was reduced by 22 percent in fiscal 2010, for an additional savings of $2.6 million.

The county also eliminated the purchase of police fleet vehicles, restricted out-of-state travel, reduced golf subsidies, and halted plans to buy new equipment. The county eliminated funding for the Kahalu‘u Ranger Park Program, and cut funding to the Soil and Water Conservation Districts across the county.

The county discontinued funding for the police cadet program, cut funding for Hawai‘i Island Humane Society animal control programs and reduced the hours at solid waste transfer stations. Our agencies cancelled or delayed vehicle purchases, cut mileage payments and delayed replacement of aging computers. Agencies cut advertising budgets for the mass transit system and other public education campaigns, delayed purchases of computer software, and deferred or eliminated employee training.

The Department of Environmental Management suspended the amnesty program for abandoned vehicles, deferred equipment leases, and reduced the use of security guards at recycling and transfer stations. At the Corporation Counsel, the budgets for law clerks’ salaries and expert witnesses and depositions were cut. The Fire Department deferred purchases of new fire trucks.

The Department of Parks & Recreation cut funding for roof and gutter repairs, playground resurfacing projects and building fumigation. The Department of Information Technology deferred computer server upgrades, and the Office of Housing and Community Development delayed repairs and maintenance. These are just a few examples of cuts and deferred spending in county government over this three-year period.

Reducing the Size of Government

Tight restrictions on hiring and reductions in staffing have saved the county many millions of dollars. We now have 141 fewer people working for the county than at the beginning of my administration because we have steadily, carefully cut the size of government by attrition. Many county employees who retired or left their jobs during this administration have not been replaced, which has reduced the number of employees on the county payroll today.

Each time the county delays hiring a worker or eliminates funding for a vacant position, the county saves the money that would have been paid out as the salary or wages for that position. This has proven to be another effective way to reduce county spending, although it pressures county departments to continually accomplish more work with smaller staffs.

Cutting funding for vacant positions must be done in a thoughtful, strategic way to ensure adequate staff is in place to provide essential services. Some positions such as sewer treatment plant operators or police recruits must be filled to protect public health and safety. Others, such as clerical staff, laborers or maintenance workers, must be unfunded. These are unavoidable sacrifices that are necessary in this difficult period to reduce spending and shrink the size of county government.

In 2009-10, we cut funding for 55 vacant positions, and in 2010-11 we unfunded an additional 70 positions. This budget proposes to cut funding for an additional 100 vacancies, for an unprecedented three-year total of 225 vacant positions that have been unfunded since the start of this administration in 2008. Unfunding these vacant positions is saving the county $7.1 million over three years.


We began the furlough program with my staff and myself in the Office of the Mayor, the first furloughs in the history of our county government. I have asked all county employees to do more with less, and it is entirely appropriate that my own office demonstrate that same willingness to cut spending and sacrifice in this challenging time.

Those first furloughs in 2009 were the beginning of a larger, three-year effort to reduce spending in the Mayor’s Office. We have successfully cut spending in the Office of the Mayor from $2,207,824 when I took office in 2008-09 to $1,393,811 in the budget for the coming year.

This year, public worker furloughs were expanded and imposed across state and county governments, including twice-a-month furloughs for most county employees. Those furloughs will save the county an estimated $7 million.

Furloughs will end on June 30 for all county employees. However, my executive staff in the Office of the Mayor will once again take employee furloughs in the coming fiscal year as part of our continuing effort to reduce the size of the executive budget. This will mark the third consecutive year my staff and I have been furloughed to do our part to reduce spending in our office and in county government as a whole.

Growing the Economy, Maintaining Services

It isn’t enough to reduce spending. We must make the County of Hawai‘i a better place to live, work, play and do business. We must use the resources we have and our partnerships in the community to grow our economy and steer it toward the bright future we know is ahead.

We must use the county’s borrowing power and excellent credit rating to help stimulate the economy by building important public works projects now. Interest rates are at extraordinarily low levels, and construction companies are competing aggressively for business. Building county projects now means the taxpayers will pay less. Pressing ahead with county construction projects now will also create badly needed construction jobs to help our working families.

We must also look for ways to help our partners such as the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo as they seek to grow. Growing the university offers new educational opportunities to our young people, while also creating jobs and injecting new dollars into our economy. Projects such as the planned Kapiolani

Extension will generate still more economic activity because they will help the university to open up lands for student housing, retailing and other uses.

Through our partnerships with Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, Big Island Visitors Bureau and others we have encouraged the private sector to add airlift to our island, including direct flights from San Jose, Oakland, Portland and Seattle to Kona, and from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Hilo. Hawai‘i Tourism Authority now reports total visitor arrivals to this island were up 6.1 percent in 2010, while total visitor expenditures increased by 17.6 percent last year.

Despite county budget reductions, we are continuing our initiatives to promote alternative energy, and to encourage growth in the agricultural sector by developing the 1,739-acre county agricultural park at Kapulena.  Agriculture and alternative energy are key to our future.

At the same time, we are preserving funding for public safety and essential core services. We are protecting and funding nutrition, recreation and other services for seniors. We have preserved programs for our children and youth, and we are maintaining county funding to non-profit organizations.


The following table describes the budgeted expenditures for FY 2010-11 and the proposed budget for FY 2011-12 for each fund.


(Amounts in thousands)




FY 10-11 


FY 11-12 




Percent Increase 


General Fund $290,985 $276,973 ($14,012) (4.8%)
Highway Fund 25,912 29,653 3,741 14.4%
Sewer Fund 9,461 9,138 (323) (3.4%)
Cemetery Fund 10 10 0 0.0%
Bikeway Fund 171 171 0 0.0%
Beautification Fund 240 154 (86) (35.8%)
Vehicle Disposal Fund 2,968 2,606 (362) (12.2%)
Solid Waste Fund 26,743 27,611 868 3.2%
Golf Course Fund 1,129 1,137 8 0.7%
Geothermal Royalty Fund 550 575 25 4.5%
Housing Fund 17,689 18,050 361 2.0%
Geothermal Asset Fund 50 50 0 0.0%