Honolulu Managing Director Doug Chin said Oahu residents can expect to see “a lot more road work” between now and the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

The city is planning to spend $38 million in a three-month span, after spending $38.7 million in the 21 previous months. Chin says it’s “not unusual” for a large amount of money to be encumbered — or assigned for a specific purpose — toward the end of the two-year cycle for which it’s appropriated.

The spending binge comes as the administration is proposing $32 million in cuts for road work in the next budget year. But Chin says the cuts are not as drastic as the City Council complains.

The city set aside $77 million for two years of road work in 2009, Chin said. It spent $38 million of that through March. Last year, it set aside another $77 million, almost none of which has been spent.

Mayor Peter Carlisle proposed reducing funding for road rehabilitation from $77 million to $45 million. City Council members proposed reinstating $20 million for a total of $65 million.

“People see that and think $77 million to $45 million, and think he must not care about roads!” Chin said. “But the whole point is, look what they have left, they still have $114 million that’s left.”

Chin provided Civil Beat the following breakdown of the city’s capital spending on road rehabilitation, as compared to what’s been allocated:

City Spending on Roads Rehabilitation

Fiscal Year CIP Budget Encumbered Unencumbered
2010 $77 million $38,707,337 $38,292,663
2011 $77 million $73,359 $76,926,641

“There’s a lot more work that can be done with the current unencumbered funds, and then adding the $45 million,” Chin said. “The last administration did $77 million, so that was for July 2009 to June 2011, and they still have $38 million left (to spend). From July 2010 to June 2012, for that, in the next 15 months, they still have $76 million to spend. The mayor’s proposing an additional $45 (million) for 2012 (to 2014).”

But the $38 million in unencumbered funds will be used by the end of the fiscal year June 30, Chin said

“Let’s see if they are able to come through with what they’re telling me they can do,” Chin said. “Right now, I have no reason to doubt that.”

City Council Public Works Chairman Stanley Chang, who has repeatedly called road repairs his top priority, proposed the reinstatement of $32 million to bring capital spending on roads back to $77 million next year.

“The Department of Design and Construction assured both the administration and the council — in public, in the press and in hearings — that they are able to encumber and spend the funds within the timelines provided for by law,” Chang said. “The more resources that are available to them, the better.”

Carlisle on Tuesday told Civil Beat that reducing capital spending is his administration’s “most significant accomplishment” so far.

“Anybody who hasn’t figured out that we can’t keep living under this debt service just doesn’t really understand finances very well in my opinion,” Carlisle said.

Chang has said paying for road repairs is enough of a priority to his constituents that he would support using operating funds to pay for them, as a way to get around borrowing more money and spiking the city’s debt service.

“I continue to advocate for maximum funding of roadway maintenance as the top priority that the city should have,” Chang told Civil Beat on Wednesday. “The administration proposed a 40 percent cut… The committee recommended restoring $20 million out of the $32 million, and I think that’s a great step in the right direction, and I will continue to advocate for full funding.”

Chin pointed to dramatically lower spending on road repairs under former Mayor Jeremy Harris — whose administration allocated $4.8 million in 2002 and $8.7 million in 2003 — as a contrast to the $45 million Carlisle proposed for 2012.

But Chang said looking at those “woefully underfunded” years only proves his point about why the city needs to spend money on roads now.

“At that time, the city decided to defer maintenance for the future,” Chang said. “They decided not to undertake what would have been costly, but said, ‘We’ll pay for it in the future.’ Now the future has come. Ten years have passed, and as much as nobody likes to be the one holding the bag when the music has stopped, we have to face the music now.”

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