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Proposed increases in parking meter fees, bus fares and the vehicle weight tax were moved ahead Tuesday by the Honolulu City Council Budget Committee.
The committee postponed action until Wednesday action on a proposed property tax increase and fee hikes for the Honolulu Zoo and municipal golf courses.
Despite Council Chair Ron Menor’s warning in March that the Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s proposed tax and fee increases would be a “tough sell,” most of the mayor’s original proposals are inching their way toward a final City Council vote in June.
The only proposal rejected so far is a bill that would have implemented a trash pickup fee. It was voted down last month.
If the other measures pass the full council, none of the money generated will go toward the city’s troubled rail project, Councilman Joey Manahan said.
Instead, he said, the city needs the funds to cover the growing cost of salaries, pensions and other benefits for employees.
“This is just a city budget making room for those non-discretionary items of collective bargaining and the contributions to the (state) retirement system,” he said after the committee meeting.
City officials expect increases in salaries and benefits because most of the employee union contracts are up for negotiation.
Director of Human Resources Carolee Kubo said it’s the first time in her 27 years of working in labor relations that all city bargaining units are up for negotiations.
“It’s been a long road with 14 bargaining units out there,” she said.
The timing frustrated some council members.
“All the money that we brought in is gone,” said Councilwoman Kymberly Pine. “We’re not even using it on services.”
Meanwhile, Honolulu residents might need to prepare to pay more to get around after the Budget Committee approved a measure that would increase the motor vehicle weight tax rate from 5 cents to 6 cents per pound over the next two years.
A small car owner would pay about $30 to $36 in vehicle weight taxes each year if the measure gets final approval from the full council, said Nelson Koyanagi, director of the Department of Budget and Fiscal Services. Owners of larger trucks and SUVs would pay about $40 to $45, he said.
Another bill approved by the committee would increase parking meter fees from 25 cents to 50 cents for 20 minutes and from 75 cents to $1.50 for each hour. It would also extend the hours when drivers must pay to park at metered stalls.
Fees for TheBus and TheHandi-Van will go up if Bill 28 makes it past June’s City Council vote and is signed into law. The increases would cover the bus system’s operating costs.
Amendments by Councilman Brandon Elefante gave riders a bit of a break.
The bill originally called for incremental rate increases through 2020, but Elefante’s amendments, which were approved, only allow for one of those increases. Rather than increasing from $2.50 to $3.50 per trip over the next three years, the cost of a single bus ride for adults would only increase to $2.75 starting in January.
Under the amended proposal, TheHandi-Van fare would increase from $2 per trip to $2.50 by 2018 rather than increasing to $4 by 2020, as the bill originally proposed.
Honolulu resident Barbra Armentrout testified at the meeting, arguing that long waiting times and unreliable service she said she receives from TheHandi-Van don’t justify any fare increases.
“I’d like to see one of you ride a Handi-Van for a whole month and see how you like it,” she told the committee members.
Despite a slew of proposed cuts, the mayor’s proposed operating budget has made it to the final council vote relatively unscathed.
Manahan restored $134,694 in funds cut last month for Honolulu’s new Office of Climate Change, Resilience and Sustainability. With the funds restored, the Caldwell administration’s original request for $404,388 total for the office remains.
“We wanted to give them a chance,” Manahan said. He hopes the new office, approved by voters through a charter amendment in 2016, will address the impact of rising sea levels on coastal developments.
Manahan also restored $1.85 million in funds previously cut for improvements that are already underway at Thomas Square Park in Honolulu.
Pine spent weeks hounding directors of various city departments for the lapsed funds from previous years.
“I deeply appreciate her scrutiny,” Department of Transportation Services Director Wes Frysztacki said with a hint of sarcasm. He was among the department directors who came to defend their departmental budgets.
Pine’s inquiries resulted in 16 amendments to the mayor’s operating budget totaling $33,795,711 million in proposed cuts. But only $18,514 of those cuts passed the committee.
None of the proposed cuts by Councilmen Trevor Ozawa or Ernie Martin were considered at the meeting. Neither sits on the Budget Committee this year.
Below are some of the amendments to the mayor’s operating and capital budgets:
• Menor earmarked $300,000 for a “community-based, multi-agency collaborative approach” to violent crime, drug abuse and gang activity. The initiative funded by the proviso would target “high-crime” neighborhoods.
• Pine, who represents the leeward coast, added $5.3 million for improvements to Papipi Road near Ewa Beach Elementary School. The funds would be used as a part of the city’s Department of Transportation Services Complete Streets initiative.
“We’ve been waiting for it for years,” Kurt Fevella, a member of the Ewa Neighborhood Board, said of the funds. “Now we got the funding, now we’re going to get it done.”
•Honolulu parks would receive $1 million or more in improvement funds, including Pearlridge Neighborhood Park and Mililani District Park. Parks receiving six figures in improvement funds include Koko Head District Park , Kaimuki Community Park, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Park, Hahaione Neighborhood Park, Aina Koa Neighborhood Park, Koolau Community Center, Na Pueo Mini Park, Dole Community Park, Waiau Neighborhood Park and Makalapa Neighborhood Park.
A proposed $1.2 million for canoe halaus at parks around the island also passed the committee.