Maui county residents would gain a sense of how much it would cost to implement proposed changes to their county charter if voters approve one such amendment this election.

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Voting yes on the proposal in the Nov. 8 election means that the county auditor – a position currently held by Lance Taguchi – and his staff would have to prepare a financial impact analysis of proposed amendments to the charter.

A no vote means that the auditor would not be required to evaluate the financial impact of proposed charter amendments. But the auditor would still have the legal authority to conduct such an assessment upon request or by his or her own initiative.

Ballot question No. 11 asks if the charter shall be amended to require the county auditor to assess the impacts of proposed charter amendments on county taxation and spending. Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2022

When Taguchi learned that this would go before voters, he said he decided to give it a practice run. He assigned one of his staff members to take the lead in investigating the cost of enacting all 13 proposed charter amendments on the ballot this election.

The report, released on Oct 4, is not an audit. It’s an independent financial assessment that does not draw conclusions one way or the other about the proposed charter amendments.

“It shouldn’t be viewed as advocating for the passage or the defeat of a charter amendment,” Taguchi said.

The biggest-ticket item among the list of charter changes would be the creation of a separate housing department dedicated to affordable housing, including an advisory board and a Hawaiian Home Lands liaison. The report pegs implementation at an estimated $2 million.

The other high-cost item would be the creation of a Department of Oiwi Resources. The department would carry out programs to ensure Oiwi, or Indigenous, cultural resources, place names, Hawaiian language, cultural sites and many other such things are properly managed.

Taguchi’s office estimated the cost of creating an Oiwi department at $400,000.

The other proposed changes to the charter would cost less than $100,000 each, including charter amendment proposal 11, according to the report.

Charter amendment proposal 11 was the brainchild of Kauanoe Batangan, a public policy analyst and charter commission member who did not respond to a request for comment.

Attorney Lance Collins said there was very little discussion about charter amendment 11 when it came before the commission because it made a lot of sense.

“It just sailed through,” said Collins, who chaired the charter commission until he stepped down to become a per diem judge.

“To the extent that it gives voters additional information from an independent neutral party, that would be something that would be useful in terms of voter education,” he said.

David DeLeon, who also served as a charter commission member, said Taguchi initially expressed some hesitancy at the proposed charter amendment because he and his staff consider themselves auditors and accountants, not financial forecasters.

Taguchi told the County Council’s Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee on Feb. 28 that auditors tend to prefer looking back at financial events that have already occurred, not projecting future costs. The past is a safe harbor that tends to allow for greater accuracy, he said.

DeLeon gave Taguchi credit for producing the report and being open to doing it again if voters decide to approve the ballot question.

“He made a run at it,” said DeLeon.

Some have criticized the cost estimates that Taguchi and his staff came up with as far as the proposed Housing and Oiwi Resources Departments, he said. Some of that critique may be valid because it’s difficult to project staffing requirements, office space, supplies and other costs.

But having an estimate calculated by an independent, neutral agency is better than having no estimate at all, De Leon said.

At least with a county auditor’s report, voters have some idea what the cost of government is rather than being asked to vote in the dark, in his view.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation and the Fred Baldwin Memorial Foundation.

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