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Maui Council committee reviews budget for Mayor’s Office

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Maui County Council Budget committee review of the Mayor’s Office (4.10.24). PC: County of Maui / screen grab of livestream provided by Akakū.

Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee reviewed the Mayor’s Fiscal Year 2025 proposed budget for the Office of the Mayor on Wednesday.

“Our entire community and our staff have been through a lot from the fires and the work continues,” said Dr. Leo Caires, Chief of Staff for Mayor Richard Bissen’s administration. “I’m so very proud of the commitment and the dedication from our staff as I continue to reflect back and forwards on this experience in the days ahead.

Proposed Budget Overview for the Office of the Mayor:

The administration provides programs and services for: Budget, Communications, Government Affairs, Public Affairs, Executive Assistance and Administrative Support. Under the Office of the Mayor are the Community Development Block Grant Program and the Office of Economic Development.

The mayor’s Fiscal Year 2025 proposed budget is $30,952,924. This represents a decrease of $11.6 million, including a decrease of $674,918 for operations, and a decrease of $3,825,741 for equipment.


Under the mayor’s budget this year, is the establishment of the East Maui Water Authority as a separate department. In addition, there’s a proposal to transfer $6 million in grants from the Administration Program to the Office of Economic Development. Caires also highlighted the addition of one expansion position. And, the budgeted amount for Akakū Community Television has decreased to align with the prior year’s actual expense.

The budget includes a decrease of -2.9% for operations, a decrease of -74.3% for equipment, and an increase of 1.8% for salaries. That translates to a -27.4% reduction in total department costs.

The fiscal spread for various programs within the Office of the Mayor includes $5.2 million for the Administration Program, $632,920 for the Budget Program, $1.8 million for the Community Development Block Grant Program, $18.2 million for the Office of Economic Development, and $14.85 million for Open Space. Caires noted that the administration is also seeking to restore $20 million to the Emergency Fund.

Public Affairs and Communications:

Mahina Martin, Director of Public Affairs explained the shift in the department following the August 2023 wildfires. Prior to the disaster, she oversaw both Public Affairs and Communications, but the two areas gained their own focus in the months that followed.


“In light of all of the degree of the unprecedented conditions that we faced last year with the disaster, and the current demands of our public, it appeared necessary to give our community as much attention as we can with the work of public affairs—which really focuses on community engagement and strengthening our disaster recovery efforts. It allows us to broaden and deepen our work without disregarding the non disaster impacted communities of Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, and the remaining areas of Maui,” said Martin who oversees that area.

With more than 170,000 residents on three islands, the efforts of public affairs includes disaster community meetings in West Maui, rockfall mitigation meetings in East Maui, and the Holomua Kākou to provide more access to county government for residents in rural communities.

She said the shift also allowed for the Communications division to get the attention it needed as well. The focus for Communications, which is now overseen by Laksmi Abraham, “has always been, and continues to be accurate, responsive and relevant information,” she said. “Particularly in this day and age of… the intense hunger of our community and the different technology and methods that information is disseminated—I think we owe that to our public. They expect it. So our capabilities should match up to that.”

Together, the Public Affairs and Communications divisions serve 17 departments today, and will expand to 21 in the upcoming fiscal year. This includes the newly formed East Maui Water Authority, which will begin operating as a department. Two additional departments were established as a result of charter amendments passed by voters in 2022: The Department of ʻŌiwi Resources and a Department of Housing will be established in July.


The department will be asking for public information officers multiple departments have asked for additional staff positions.

“Looking at what the department needs were and what the current communications staff is able to do, it really does bolster, and give us a chance to make sure that there is a consistent focus on proactive information, but information that is accurate, relevant and timely, and gives the public what they want. Right now it’s in a queue and just gets triaged; and with the disaster also being a priority, it’s been very challenging,” said Martin.

“At the end of the day, it’s going to allow our public to make informed decisions,” said Martin, given each individual’s day to day lives and lifestyle.

Maui currently has 17 departments with five public information officers (PIOs) serving in the Office of the Mayor, in addition to one each in the Maui police and fire departments, for a total of seven PIOs. The City and County of Honolulu has the most PIOs with 13 serving specific departments and four dedicated to the Office of the Mayor, for a total of 17 PIOs. Hawaiʻi Island has 10 PIOs—nine serving departments and one in the Office of the Mayor. Kauaʻi has the least public information officers—two serving specific departments and three dedicated to the mayorʻs office.

Office of Economic Development: Community Development Block Grant

Patience Kahula reviewed the county’s Community Development Block Grant Program, which was created by Title I of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974. Maui County receives direct CDBG funding from the federal government, with funds allocated annually by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development on a formula basis.

The county’s CDBG funding for Program Year 2024 is anticipated to be $1,829,334, with about $1,463,467 awarded to projects.

  • Proposed project funding for 2025 includes $100,000 for Senior Affordable Rental Housing to support the operation of units acquired for income-eligible kupuna displaced by the Maui wildfires.
  • There’s also $1,363,468 in proposed funding for Maui Wildfire Recovery. The involves an acquisition of real property to support a Resiliency Center dedicated to serving the survivors of the Maui wildfires. The center is proposed to create space for mental health counseling, healing activities and wrap-around services for wildfire survivors. The items are pending support and approval by the Maui County Council.

Luana Mahi, Office of Economic Development Director, discussed the department’s Workforce Development Program, which is designed to help job seekers find employment, and match employers with skilled workers needed for a thriving economy. Project partners include Goodwill Industries of Hawaiʻi, McKinley Community School for Adults, the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Workforce Development Division, and the Department of Human Services’ Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served more than 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.
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