The budget battles of 2013 may continue into the mayor’s second year in office.
Honolulu City Council leaders are already taking a scalpel to Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s proposed budget for the 2015 fiscal year. Council members proposed reducing funding this week for some of the mayor’s top initiatives, including his Housing First program, his energy efficient lighting plan, and even his trumpeted road repaving program.
The proposed cuts won’t just hit funding for the mayor’s 2015 priorities. Council Chair Ernie Martin and Council Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi have also proposed snipping away at the mayor’s own office spending, according to proposed budget amendments made public this week.
Martin has suggested reducing the mayor’s proposed $709,752 office budget by 8 percent. Much of the savings for the city — $34,284 — would result from cancelled salary increases for staff.
Martin and Kobayashi have also proposed cutting the mayor’s office’s funding for phone service, out-of-state travel, office supplies and a contingency fund that covers incidental expenses related to city business.
“The salary increases were so huge,” said Kobayashi. “We trimmed some of the telephone costs.”
The mayor is requesting $7,200 to cover phone costs for what his office has attributed to staff’s increased cell phone needs. But Martin has proposed slashing this by $7,098, which would leave it at just $102. Kobayashi has suggested cutting those by $3,600.
Jesse Broder Van Dyke, a spokesman for the mayor, did not respond to requests for comment.
Caldwell is hoping to salvage his ambitious plan to address Oahu’s homeless problem this year after the collapse of a $142 million deal to sell public housing projects in Honolulu to a private developer. Caldwell had planned to use $7 million from that deal to pay for the Housing First initiative, which would work to get long-time homeless people off the streets and into housing.
Caldwell has proposed transferring $18.9 million from the Affordable Housing Fund to Housing First. He’s also allocated $2.5 million for homeless support services.
But the Housing First proposal quickly attracted criticism from council members this month who argued that not enough attention was being paid to homeless families at the expense of homeless individuals who are more likely to suffer from drug addiction and mental illness.
Kobayashi said the council is looking to reduce the $18.9 million in funding for Housing First to about $8 million.
“To spend $18 million on one program — there are families we want to take care of,” said Kobayashi.
Martin, who did not respond to an interview request, has proposed reallocating $4.2 million from the mayor’s $18.9 million Housing First appropriation to the Family Justice Center, a haven for victims of domestic violence.
He also wants to cut the Housing First budget by $1 million.
“The county must be mindful not to overextend resources to one particular group at the expense of families with children,” he noted in his proposed budget amendments.
The mayor also plans to replace the city’s 51,700 street lights with LED lights, which is forecast to save the city $3 million annually — one of seven top priorities he championed when he released his budget last month.
But Kobayashi wants to nix $80,000 in funds for a LED consultant, noting that there is “no justification” for that expense in budget documents.
Even funding for Caldwell’s road repaving program, which he hopes to make a crowning achievement of his administration, may be cut. The mayor hopes to spend $140 million in the upcoming fiscal year to continue his efforts to repave hundreds of miles of deteriorating roads.
Kobayashi said that the council might reduce the funding by up to $20 million and use the money to repair city sidewalks.
Last year, the City Council killed the mayor’s gas tax proposal and trimmed millions of dollars in vacant positions. Caldwell responded by withholding money for earmarks the City Council had inserted.
This year, tensions between the mayor and City Council over the budget have shown few signs of abating.
The mayor angered council members earlier this year when he included his proposal to charge residents for trash pick-up and his plan to place advertisements on the sides of buses in the upcoming budget even though the City Council Budget Committee had deferred the measures.
The mayor noted that the City Council technically has the power to revive the bills.
The political gamesmanship has left the City Council scrambling to find other sources of revenue to cover the $11.5 million that the mayor’s office expected the bus ads and trash fees to generate for the 2015 fiscal year.
Additional budget friction seems likely. Council members are sifting through the budget and trying to cut where they can, Kobayashi said.
Members are also looking to save $5 million by ending exemptions for trash pick-up fees that a limited number of businesses have enjoyed for about a decade.
The debate over the budget will likely drag on for the next three months — the City Council must pass a balanced budget before July 1, when the new fiscal year begins.
“We are just beginning,” said Kobayashi.
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