The Honolulu City Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday on the city’s 2015 fiscal year budget, capping off three months of debate that has included adjustments to Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s funding priorities.
In March, Caldwell submitted a $2.15 billion operating budget and $640 million capital improvement budget to the City Council. Some of his top priorities included repaving hundreds of miles of roads, improving city bus service, acquiring buildings for the chronically homeless and improving parks.
But recently proposed amendments by Council Chair Ernie Martin would slash the mayor’s proposed road repair spending by almost 30 percent while boosting the budget for Martin’s own homeless initiatives. The Council has also rejected the mayor’s exterior bus advertising proposal, which he had expected to raise up to $7.5 million for increased bus service. The Council has found savings in other areas to support increased bus routes.
Honolulu Hale, where the City Council meets.
Caldwell’s park revitalization program, including some $40 million in improvements, has largely remained intact, as has his $500,000 allocation for energy efficiency measures. The mayor plans to replace more than 50,000 city-owned street lights with LED fixtures, which use 40 percent less energy.
Overall, the City Council is proposing to increase capital expenditures by about $40 million above the mayor’s proposal. Some of the projects council members have added include park repairs, such as doubling the budget for Waimanalo Bay Beach Park to $2 million and building a stairway from Pupukea Beach Park to the ocean at Shark’s Cove. Other projects inserted by council members include $5.7 million for an island-wide traffic signal optimization study and $1.9 million in increased funding for arts and culture organizations.
The most contentious issue this year has been Caldwell’s Housing First program, aimed at getting homeless off the streets and into permanent housing. The mayor had allocated nearly $22 million in the upcoming budget, $18.9 million of which was for acquiring buildings in Waikiki, Chinatown and the Waianae Coast to house homeless people.
The City Council has cut this funding by nearly half. About $4 million would go to a Housing First program in Waikiki, which Councilman Stanley Chang would oversee, under the council’s proposal.
Meanwhile, Martin unveiled his own homelessness proposal last week, which includes a $32 million appropriation for acquiring or developing homeless shelters. Priority would be given to the working homeless and homeless families with children.
Martin criticized the mayor for focusing too heavily on homeless individuals, though the mayor stressed that they make up the bulk of the street homeless population.
To fund his homeless initiative, Martin proposed reducing the mayor’s road repaving proposal, saying that the “city’s road and restoration effort has built up a strong momentum and the modest reduction shouldn’t detract from that.”
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