The Honolulu City Council is proposing to reallocate $41 million in the fiscal year 2015 capital budget to fund a range of projects.

This would cut into some of Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s top priorities, including his homeless initiative.

The long list of proposed City Council projects includes a $5.7 million island-wide traffic signal optimization study, proposed by Councilman Stanley Chang; a tennis court in Palolo Valley, supported by $100,0000 in funding inserted by Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi; and $1.9 million in funding for arts and culture organizations, backed by Councilman Ernie Martin.

The reallocation is part of the give and take of evolving negotiations after Caldwell submitted his $2.15 billion proposed budget, which includes a $640 million spending plan, to the City Council in February.

During a seven-hour City Council Budget Committee hearing on Thursday, members of the Caldwell administration pushed back against the council’s spending proposals and cuts to departmental budgets, occasionally echoing last year’s budget battles.

Department of Planning and Permitting Deputy Director Art Challacombe told council members, “I think our concern is that … both the administration and the departments submitted a balanced budget, and if there are add-ons to this budget, it’s going to come out of someplace, whether it’s (the DPP) or some other needed service.”

Kobayashi, chair of the budget committee, took exception to Challacombe and other members of the administration’s repeated references to council budget “add-ons.”

She highlighted that the budget is a collaborative process. “So we do add and make cuts,” Kobayashi said. “Council members out in their districts have things they want in the budget.”

Then numbers were batted back and forth for several more hours.

While there were moments of tension, it was a far cry from last year when the Caldwell administration blasted the City Council for inserting millions of dollars in “out of control” earmarks for nonprofits and special interest groups into the budget, and later refused to release the funding.

Jesse Broder Van Dyke, a spokesman for the mayor, didn’t respond to Civil Beat’s requests to comment on this year’s budget amendments.

But department heads expressed concerns throughout the day that the council was whittling away at funding for some of Caldwell’s priorities, such as his plan to repave 1,500 lane miles of dilapidated roads and his focus on park upgrades.

But the most contentious topic was the City Council’s planned reduction in funding for Caldwell’s Housing First program, which aims to get more homeless people off the streets and out of shelters and into permanent housing.

The Caldwell administration wants to spend $18.9 million to acquire buildings to house homeless people who are currently in Waikiki, downtown Honolulu and on the leeward coast. The mayor wants an additional $1.5 million to administer the program.

But the City Council proposed cutting $5.2 million of the housing funding and the entire $1.5 million allocated to administer the program.

About $4.2 million of that funding would be shifted to the Family Justice Center, which assists victims of domestic violence.

Housing officials stressed public opinions surveys showing that helping the homeless is a top priority of local residents, coming second only to addressing traffic problems.

But Kobayashi said it is too early to fund the homeless initiative, noting that the Department of Community Services has yet to identify any buildings to purchase or lease.

“We don’t want to just have money hanging and there is no plan,” Kobayashi said.

Pamela Witty-Oakland, director of the DCS, countered that it was a “chicken and egg” problem. Without any financial commitment from the City Council, it’s hard to negotiate housing deals, she said.

She expressed her frustration, saying “I think we just disagree on the process.”

“I think we need to spend money up front.”

Witty-Oakland also raised objections to the $1.9 million inserted by Councilman Ernie Martin to fund arts and culture organizations. She said her department doesn’t have the staff to administer the grants.

The department would have to review every contract to make sure that each organization is in good financial standing and that it will be able to deliver what it promises. “It’s a burden our department just cannot handle,” she said.

Martin inserted the arts and culture funding into the budget after the Grants-in-Aid Advisory Commission selected 32 nonprofit grantees to receive about $5 million in funding — none of which were arts and culture organizations. Most of the selected organizations are in the public service category.

A.J. Halago, vice chair of the advisory committee, said during a City Council hearing last month that this was not intentional. He suggested that the criteria to rank grantees probably needs to be revised.

Caldwell’s top cabinet members also fought back against cuts made to the offices of the mayor and the managing director, including reductions in out-of-state travel, cell phone service, a city-wide $1,990 Civil Beat subscription, a new shredder and office security.

Managing Director Ember Shinn told council members that security is a real concern in the current climate. “Anyone can walk into the mayor’s office and the M.D.’s office,” she said. “And it becomes problematic when we have had a lot of disgruntled people this year over a lot of different issues.”

The City Council has until June to finalize and pass a balanced budget, which goes into effect July 1.

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