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How much of your income do you give to charity every year? Three percent? Five? Ten?
The City and County of Honolulu is thinking about following your lead, now that the Honolulu City Council has put a proposed charter amendment on the ballot for November despite objections from Mayor Peter Carlisle.
The measure, if adopted by voters, would establish a Grants In Aid Fund designed specifically to give money to nonprofit organizations so they can “provide services to economically and/or socially disadvantaged populations or provide services for public benefit in the areas of the arts, culture, economic development or the environment.” Introduced by Council Chair Ernie Martin, who before he was elected served in leadership roles for the Department of Community Services, it secured a supermajority of support at three council meetings: Feb. 15, March 21 and Wednesday.
The rationale for the new fund is that the city’s primary mechanism to fund those important community programs is Community Development Block Grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The CDBG allocation from the feds has dropped about $2.5 million in recent years and could drop further, the council worries. And, of course, there’s that whole $8 million snafu with the senior facility in Wahiawa that could hamstring the city even further.
An earlier version of the proposed charter amendment would put 1 percent of real property tax revenues — about $8 million, according to the administration — into the Grants In Aid Fund every year. The amended version approved by the council Wednesday would make it 0.5 percent of all general fund revenues — about $5 million, according to the administration — every year.
Both versions would require that at least $250,000 be spent in each City Council district — making the new city-managed grant money a potential source of pork barrel funding. But the amended version goes further than the original in its efforts to regulate those dollars by creating a seven-member appointed commission to advise the city on grantees.
The Carlisle administration had been mum on the proposal during previous readings but raised concerns Tuesday, the day before the final vote.
“While we may respectfully disagree as to whether addressing the recent shortfall in CDBG funds is best addressed in this manner as a matter of policy, I do not dispute the city council’s prerogative as the legislative body to place measures such as this on the ballot for voters to decide,” Carlisle wrote in a strongly worded memo. “Where I feel particularly compelled to speak up is when I believe the implementation of such a measure will significantly and negatively impact city operations or its fiscal stability. This is the case here.”
Carlisle identified eight particular objections, many of which remain unaddressed in the final amended version of the proposal. These are three of them:
(3) The charter amendment presumes that CDBG funding and other federal or state funds will never recover from its decreased levels, or that funds from private sources will never fill the gap.
(4) The charter amendment permanently reduces the city’s flexibility to consider its financial circumstances and various priorities from year to year — including direct services, infrastructure, fiscal stability, unfunded liabilities, public safety and recreation, to name a few — and to appropriate property tax or general fund revenues accordingly.
(6) The requirement that a minimum of a quarter million dollars be “expended annually in each council district” is vague and unenforceable.
He also argued that nonprofits already get significant help from the city in the form of $26 million every year in property tax exemptions.
The question will be placed on the general election ballot for Oahu voters in November.
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