Honolulu City Council members are aiming to eliminate a broad array of budget increases Mayor Kirk Caldwell had requested before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted daily life and devastated the international economy.
Travel to conferences? Unnecessary, said Budget Chair Joey Manahan.
Over $43 million for the Blaisdell Center? Absolutely not, several members said.
“We need to get back to basics and figure out what we can do to manage the city’s budget without having any inflated costs,” Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi said.
Councilwoman Kymberly Pine and Tsuneyoshi struck out nearly every increase Caldwell’s administration asked for. COVID-19 concerns led to the cancellation of most of the city’s budget presentations earlier this month in which department heads justify increases to council members. Until city directors explain their requests at next month’s council meeting, the councilwomen said they needed to say no to everything.
“I cut every new item that they put in,” Pine said. “They can explain, and then we can think about it.”
Tsuneyoshi said she has major questions about funding requests from the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation and the Department of Transportation Services. The agencies had asked for major increases in anticipation of an opening date for Honolulu’s rail line later this year.
“Right now, we’ve had to reassess everything because a lot has changed,” she said.
The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment. City officials have stated they don’t believe city revenue will take much of a hit from the virus. Unlike the state, whose revenue relies on a robust tourism industry that has vanished almost overnight, the city gets most of its money from property taxes.
Pine is proposing a major relief package for addressing housing and homelessness during the pandemic and beyond. It includes:
$71 million in capital funds to develop housing and homeless service centers.
$1.5 million for the Department of Emergency Management to address emergency provisions, shelter and quarantine facilities.
$100,000 for the Department of Land Management to hire a consultant who will identify vacant city lands that can be used for rapid rehousing and transitional shelters for people suffering the impacts of mental illness, addiction or the pandemic.
“We have to prepare for the worst-case scenario,” Pine said.
While devastating, the pandemic creates an opportunity to solve the homelessness problem that has plagued Oahu for years, Pine said.
She wants to immediately develop 6,000 tiny homes that could be used to house homeless people to contain the spread of COVID-19 and also quarantine others who may have the virus and want to isolate themselves from their families. The plan would require state and federal coordination, she said. After the pandemic clears, the homes would then be available as affordable housing for the homeless and the greater public.
Council members proposed other budget additions, mostly smaller projects like park and road improvements for their districts. They will discuss the amendments at their next meeting scheduled for April 15.
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