Honolulu City Council Chairman Ernie Martin has deleted his budget request for $250,000 to fund the expansion of an evangelical Christian megachurch in Sand Island on Oahu’s south shore.

Instead, the councilman representing the North Shore wants to use the money “to support a public/private consortium focused on developing a strategy to assist homeless, needy veterans, youths with special needs, and/or victims of domestic abuse.”

He specified that the money cannot be used for construction costs.

Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin.
Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin changed his budget request for New Hope Church Wednesday. Cory Lum/CIvil Beat

Martin sent the budget amendment to Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi on Wednesday, writing that it was “an effort to clarify the intention” of his original proposal.

Civil Beat first reported the filing on Monday evening and by Tuesday dozens of people had added comments to the article protesting the idea of giving taxpayer money to a religious organization. A follow-up story and an editorial Wednesday drew many more, the vast majority opposed to the proposal. Many called it unconstitutional.

The councilman, who is considering a run for mayor this year, declined a request for an interview Wednesday.

New Hope Oahu is in the midst of a $10 million capital campaign to renovate and expand its Sand Island facilities, including building a 400-seat auditorium for overflow seating during its weekend worship services.

Councilman Joey Manahan, who represents Kalihi, also requested $250,000 for the church, which has up to 10,000 members on Oahu. On Tuesday, he said in a statement that the proposal would help revitalize the neighborhood.

Manahan did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday regarding whether he’s still standing by that proposal.

Nonprofits generally apply for funding from the city in the fall through a competitive program known as Grants in Aid. A panel of city officials evaluates applications based on established criteria and limits subsidies to $125,000 per organization.

A city spokesman said New Hope did not apply for money through the Grants in Aid program. But even if the church had done so, the city Department of Community Services’ rules prohibit grants from funding events that “advance or inhibit religion” or are “predominately religious in nature.”

In the latest draft of the budget, the City Council added $1.9 million in earmarks for nonprofits, on top of $5.9 million allocated through the Grants in Aid program.

Martin’s and Manahan’s efforts to set aside another $250,000 would be an additional earmark on top of the $1.9 million.

Caldwell submitted his proposed budget to the Council nearly two months ago, and the Council is expected to send him a final budget in June. The next budget hearing is on May 10.

About the Author