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Maui County Council approves record-high $1.07 billion budget for next fiscal year

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PC: Council meeting 6/8/22 screenshot

Defending a record-high budget, Maui County Council this morning voted unanimously to approve nearly $1.07 billion for the next fiscal year that starts July 1. 

Mayor Michael Victorino’s proposed budget of almost $1.05 billion was presented in March. Now that the council has finalized its version, Victorino has a chance to review and provide potential line-item vetoes.

Council members today admitted shock with the billion-dollar budget for fiscal year 2023 — but pointed to growing community needs, along with higher costs of labor, goods and services, as reasons behind the increase. 

“I thought I’d never live to see the day we’d have a one billion-dollar budget, but it is what it is,” Council Member Mike Molina said ahead of the vote. “Everything goes up in price, and the community members have a right to ask for certain considerations that they feel is needed for a better, more quality county.” 

The council approved on second and final reading today its budget appropriations, which come in at $1,069,688,795, including operating costs of $805,903,795 and capital improvement projects of $263,785,000. 

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Members during the meeting hailed nearly $33 million that will go toward the county’s Affordable Housing Fund, a $43 million Hālau of ʻŌiwi Art that will be built in Wailuku and projects for specific districts, such as funding to tackle axis deer problems Upcountry and money to potentially purchase an area of Baby Beach on the north shore. 

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“I think we’re taking a step forward with the growth of our community and the needs of our community,” Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura said. 

Council Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, who leads the budget committee, acknowledged that $1 billion is a lot of money but emphasized it is important for residents to know where the money comes from.  

More than 80% of about $433 million in property tax revenue next fiscal year will come from the tourism industry, Rawlins-Fernandez said, adding that the county will see another $60 million from transient accommodation taxes. Property taxes are the largest contributor to the county’s revenue. 

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“So it shouldn’t be looked at as just one lump sum, but to really understand how we’re generating revenue and where the relief is being given and the services that the community has been asking for (is important),” she said. 

Rawlins-Fernandez said the county’s tiered property tax system, which was implemented by the council in recent years, helps people who need it most. For example, property taxes in the next fiscal year are going down for owner-occupied homes. 

Council Member Tamara Paltin said that with a $1 billion budget comes much responsibility, and that there is limited time to address managed retreat and other environmental issues, economic diversification, food sustainability and tourism management. 

“We have to get very serious in addressing the problems,” she said. 

While most members praised the budget, Council Chairwoman Alice Lee said the council needs to be more “organized and focused” in the future. 

“We ended up with a budget that’s way too high,” she said. “I think a good budget is a budget that is less symbolic and more realistic. And more realistic means a budget that can be implemented.  

“So if we end up with enormous areas of savings then that means we didn’t get the job done,” Lee added. “Hopefully that doesn’t happen but I have a feeling that’s going to happen.” 

Council in the future needs to narrow its scope, the chairwoman said.

“We are going to have many challenges in the future with rising interest rates inflation, serious personnel shortages, supply chain issues — all of these challenges will force us to get it together and be more organized and focused in the future,” Lee said.

Council members acknowledged the efforts of Rawlins-Fernandez, along with the work of the mayor, county Budget Director Michele Yoshimura and other staff, over marathon deliberations. 

Victorino this afternoon recognized the council’s work on the budget.

“They worked closely with my administration to finalize the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, which is a blueprint for Maui County’s continued progress,” he said in a statement. “We are emerging from the pandemic with a stronger economy, lower unemployment, and nearly 3,000 approved affordable housing units ready to be built.”

The mayor said that he remains committed to expedite workforce housing, diversify and strengthen the economy and respond to climate change.

“This budget provides essential services today, while laying the foundation for a healthy, thriving community for generations to come,” Victorino said. “The council’s unanimous support in passing this budget indicates we are moving together toward these goals.”

The council’s budget is slightly more than the mayor’s overall budget proposal due to increased allocations to the Affordable Housing Fund, housing and homeless related programs, agriculture programs and countywide road resurfacing projects, and a new allocation relating to the Ma‘alaea Regional Wastewater System, a council news release said.

Highlights from the council’s work on the budget include:

  • Decreasing real property tax rates from the mayor’s proposal. 
  • Adding two positions, one to the Office of Council Services and the other to the Department of Management, to support Hawaiian translation of county documents. 
  • Creating a housing and community development division to support an increase in affordable housing.
  • Conditioning up to $250,000 in the Affordable Housing Fund for the development of a comprehensive plan to end houselessness in Maui County.
  • Providing a $2.5 million grant to the Hawai‘i Community Foundation for initiatives recommended by the County’s Comprehensive Affordable Housing Plan to support homebuyers and renters.
  • Adding a new liaison to the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
  • Adding a $340,000 grant to Sust ‘āina ble Molokai for food security.
  • Supporting the creation of an implementation plan for economic diversification under the Office of Economic Development.
  • Adding funding for micro grants to local farmers.

* This story was updated from its original version with afternoon reaction from Mayor Michael Victorino and a news release from Maui County Council.

Kehaulani Cerizo
Kehaulani Cerizo was born and raised on Maui and worked for nearly 15 years as a news reporter, copy editor and features editor at daily newspapers. She earned awards at The Maui News in Wailuku and at Today’s Local News in San Diego.
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