The Honolulu City Council passed a $3.2 billion operating budget on Wednesday including allocations to address affordable housing, clean water and cesspool conversions.

The budget, which did not increase tax rates or fees, passed unanimously among the eight members who were present. Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi was absent.

Council Chair Tommy Waters said in a statement that the budget reflects the needs of the community.

“From funding affordable housing to fighting for clean water, the Council stands strong in our commitment toward supporting an equitable recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

Honolulu City Council chair Tommy Waters during floor session.
The city got a major assist from $196 million in federal relief funds. Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters said the budget reflects the needs of the community. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

“I am hopeful that this budget will help us to see greater city services to ensure the health and safety of our aina and neighborhoods,” he added.

The final version of Bill 14 was $137 million less than what Mayor Rick Blangiardi had requested but was still a nearly 10% increase over last year’s budget.

It now heads to the mayor’s desk. Instead of holding a press conference, Blangiardi had his staff interview him, film the answers and share them with the media. He said in his recorded remarks that he would sign the budget bills. According to his staff, he was unavailable for an interview on Wednesday evening.

The new fiscal year begins July 1.

The budget includes over $50 million for building affordable housing and increasing homeownership opportunities for local families; $23 million to provide homeless people with services for housing, in-patient health care and outreach support; and $2 million to house and support people fleeing from domestic violence.

“Even more of our residents will have a roof over their heads as a result of this budget,” Waters said.

The budget bill includes $1.3 million in funding to remove Haiku Stairs, also known as the Stairway to Heaven, the future of which has been hotly debated for years. Some groups had advocated keeping the stairs open through a managed access plan, but residents who live near the Instagram-famous site have consistently complained about trespassers.

Other key items include:

  • $25 million for the Honolulu Board of Water Supply for water security initiatives in the wake of the Navy’s Red Hill fuel contamination crisis.
  • $5 million aimed at reducing unemployment, diversifying the economy and offering job training in sectors impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • $5 million for the conversion of cesspools in high-risk areas, particularly for low-income homeowners.
  • $4 million for flood mitigation and climate adaptation projects.
  • $1 million in financial assistance to Chinatown businesses that have experienced property damage in the last year associated with people experiencing homelessness.
  • $250,000 for the Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney’s Weed and Seed initiative, which seeks to reduce crime and provide social services in areas like Chinatown, Waikiki and Kalihi.

There are still challenges ahead, Budget Chair Calvin Say said in a statement. The city will need to work to fill some 3,000 vacant positions, which is about 27% of the city workforce. The Department of Planning and Permitting alone had a 25% vacancy rate as of November, KITV reported.

Say also acknowledged the city benefited from a financial “cushion” this year with the receipt of $196 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.

In the long term, the city will face budgetary challenges, he said, including collective bargaining increases over the next several years and the end of the general excise tax revenue the city currently receives for the rail project.

“I believe the city needs to continue to work closely with the state on important issues such as the sunsetting GET to the city for the rail, and unfunded mandates that further stretch our resources on our police force and emergency services,” he said.

Council Floor Leader Andria Tupola said several items in the budget will benefit her district in West Oahu, including a $750,000 allocation to improve Keaau Beach Park, which she called “historically neglected.”

She also applauded $1 million that was budgeted for additional patrol staffing at the Honolulu Police Department.

“I am not in favor of using this for any overtime, but that we might stop using that as a crutch and start to fill our much-needed patrol positions,” Tupola said.

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