At the end of a press conference he called last week to talk about internal Federal Transit Administration emails critical of the Honolulu rail project, Ben Cayetano made a quick pivot to the “truth squad” he’s formed to look at city government operations.

“Already, in the city’s own budget recently passed, the mayor has cut out funding for police and for fire and for other services which in my opinion are important. I recall one appropriation that he cut out had to do with the purchase of new radios. Those kind of things are important, but now they’re beginning to suffer.”

Cayetano promised his team would share more details soon. While we wait, let us try our hand at this Fact Checking thing.

First, we need to clarify which budget Cayetano’s referring to as being “recently passed.” That description doesn’t fit either the Fiscal year 2012 budget “passed” in June 2011 (not so “recently”), or the Fiscal Year 2013 budget Mayor Peter Carlisle proposed “recently” that has not yet been “passed” by the Honolulu City Council.

Cayetano’s campaign said he was referring to the proposed Capital Improvement Program for Fiscal Year 2013 that Mayor Peter Carlisle submitted earlier this month for review and adoption.

The new budget describes 7.7 percent of $578 million of capital projects as being for “public safety” — that’s $44.5 million. It represents a $6.2 million increase over the same number from Carlisle Fiscal Year 2012 capital budget — 7.28 percent of $526 million. (It’s not as easy to get a department-by-department breakdown since things like security systems at police stations would technically fall under the Department of Design and Construction and not HPD.)

But while the capital budget for public safety seems to be up from last year, Carlisle has cut operating budgets for both the Police and Fire Departments.

Here’s a breakdown of the city’s budgetary expenditures for those two departments in recent years. The numbers show a decrease each of the two years Carlisle’s been in office.

Public Safety Budget, 2003-2013

Fiscal Year Police Operating
Change Pct Fire Operating
Change Pct
2013 (Proposed) $223.8 -3.8% $95.6 -3.5%
2012 (Appropriated) $232.6 -2.2% $99.1 -2.7%
2011 (Appropriated) $237.8 +6.0% $101.8 +5.6%
2010 (Appropriated) $224.3 +6.6% $96.4 +7.2%
2009 (Appropriated) $210.5 +5.2% $89.9 +7.4%
2008 (Appropriated) $200.1 +6.0% $83.7 +10.1%
2007 (Appropriated) $188.7 +6.4% $76.0 +5.8%
2006 (Appropriated) $177.3 +4.0% $71.8 +4.8%
2005 (Appropriated) $170.5 +5.2% $68.5 +5.1%
2004 (Appropriated) $162.0 +2.1% $65.2 +7.4%
2003 (Appropriated) $158.6 N/A $60.7 N/A

Source: City and County of Honolulu annual budgets

It’s important to note that APEC — the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit of world leaders hosted here in Honolulu in November — was a consideration in the departments’ budgets. HPD budgeted $18 million in Fiscal Years 2011 and 2012 for APEC-related costs, though it spent only $10.5 million of that, according to post-event accounting by the city. The Fire Department saved $2 million versus what it had budgeted for APEC.

When asked about Cayetano’s claims about the police and fire budgets, Carlisle’s office provided the following written statement on behalf of Managing Director Doug Chin Tuesday:

Overall, next year’s police and fire department budgets no longer include one-time APEC costs but were adjusted upward for fuel and electricity cost increases, and in the case of HPD, increased funding for radios, among other items. The net result was a slight decrease in each agency from last year to this year. Both police and fire chiefs have represented they had adequate funding to perform the necessary public services of the department.

The change between the HPD’s FY2012 and FY2013 can largely be attributed to a 35 percent decrease in budgeted non-holiday overtime, from $25.6 million this year to $16.6 million next year, according to the department’s budget presentation to the City Council last week. That decrease reflects the savings from overbudgeted APEC costs, Chief Louis Kealoha told the council. (Read The Money Blog for more about budgetary matters.)

Asked by City Council Chair Ernie Martin if the HPD CIP budget was “sufficient” and if there was any other money the department needed, Kealoha said no. He said replacing the 50-year-old Waianae Substation is a priority, and that project is budgeted to the tune of $5.65 million this year.

Source: Honolulu Police Department

Carlisle has said his primary budgetary goal is to “bend the debt curve downward,” and he’s tried to accomplish that by reining in department spending. The Police and Fire Departments saw budgetary growth every year dating back to 2003, but they dipped once he took office.

When he was first running for office, the long-time prosecutor claimed that Honolulu was the “safest big city in the United States.” Civil Beat Fact Checked that statement and found it to be True.

What About Radio Money?

As for Cayetano’s recollection of one appropriation that had to do with the purchase of new radios, Malcolm Tom, who served as the city’s deputy managing director about a decade ago, said the former governor asked him to respond to our questions.

Governor Cayetano was commenting on the upgrading of the Police Microwave Radio System that connects each police district police station. HPD says that the current microwave equipment is outdated and replacement parts are difficult to obtain. The antenna towers require maintenance and reinforcement to withstand a Category 4 hurricane. According to the Police, the Microwave Radio System provides required back-up communications to support the district police stations for voice and data communications in times of a natural disaster or when an electrical black out disrupts normal lines of communications.

The Six-year CIP Budget for fiscal years 2012 to 2017 scheduled $1,775,000 be appropriated in fiscal year 2013 to upgrade the Microwave Radio System. However, in his fiscal year 2013 CIP Budget, Mayor Carlisle requested an appropriation of only $275,000 and, thus, cutting $1,500,000 in funds to replace the microwave system for fiscal year 2013. Apparently, Mayor Carlisle is willing to take the risk that a natural disaster will not occur over the next few years that would require the operation of the Microwave Radio System.

Indeed, the FY2012 six-year capital budget slated $1.775 million for Project 2009034 in FY2013, and the FY2013 budget knocked the expenditure on that particular project for this coming year down to $275,000. The description and justification for the project stayed the same:

Description: Upgrade microwave spur radio antenna tower and supporting facilities that interface with the city’s microwave loop to each district police station.

Justification: The current microwave spur radio equipment is outdated and replacement parts are difficult to obtain. Antenna towers require maintenance and reinforcement to withstand a Category 4 hurricane. The microwave spur radio systems are required to provide back­up communications to support the district police stations with hotline telephones, Voice over Internet Protocol telephones, and computer data connectivity.

The mayor’s office interpreted Cayetano’s reference to “new radios” differently. When asked about Cayetano’s claims about the police and fire budgets, Chin said:

The Mayor’s proposed FY2013 budget sets funding for HPD radios at $1.8 million. This is an increase of $400,000 over the FY2012 funding for radios at $1.4 million. In addition, HPD has a five year commitment to change over to a new dual/multi band radio system by the end of 2017 at an estimated cost of over $15 million.

Our search of both the FY2013 and FY2012 capital budgets failed to find a $1.8 million or $1.4 million allocation for HPD radios.

BOTTOM LINE: Cayetano is correct that Carlisle cut something from the police budget that Cayetano believes is important. But his statement is missing important context. The overall proposed capital improvement program budget for next year includes more money for public safety than the budget Carlisle proposed for this year did. This makes Cayetano’s claim of reduced funding for police and fire Mostly True.

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