Council approved $3.4 billion budget focused on fighting crime and building homes.

Correction: The original version of this story said that council salary increases were passed as part of the city’s operating budget. That is incorrect. The error was made in editing.

As some onlookers berated them as greedy, lazy and insensitive to the financial struggles of local people, the Honolulu City Council finalized most of the details of the city’s $3.4 billion budget for fiscal year 2024 in a protracted hearing at Honolulu Hale Wednesday.

The 11-hour session, which contained dozens of discussion items, was overshadowed by frequently acidic or intimidating testimony by Honolulu residents who were there to protest proposed salary increases for the council and city administration.

The basic shape of the budget passed by the council closely mirrored that proposed by Mayor Rick Blangiardi in March, when he offered up a $3.4 billion budget, which was essentially flat, adjusted for inflation. The city’s operating budget for the 2023 fiscal year was $3.2 billion, or about a 6.3 percent increase.

Honolulu Hale bathed in sunrise light.
Council approved $3.4 billion budget focused on fighting crime and building homes. (Kevin Fujii/Civl Beat/2023)

He had proposed a $300 tax credit as relief for homeowners straining under rising property assessments. The council raised the credit to $350, which they said would help homeowners while allowing the city to maintain key services.

Council member Augie Tulba said that didn’t go far enough.

“Instead of offering real relief, we have opted to offer taxpayers a meager relief package that won’t go very far,” he said.

Budget chair Radiant Cordero said the city council is working to find other ways to help Hawaii residents by changing city tax structure to reduce taxes on elderly and low-income people. She has convened a special task force that has been working on finding ways to do that. She said the work is ongoing and will develop in coming months.

Other budget details, including arranging the first year of operational funding for the start-up of the light rail system, drew little attention from a crowd animated by the prospect that the council members, almost all of whom earn $67,000 a year for work weeks that can exceed 60 hours, would be getting a substantial pay hike if their employment was recognized as full-time rather than as part-time.

The budget placed a priority on addressing crime and boosting the supply of affordable housing.

The council granted $354 million to the Honolulu Police Department, a $43 million increase over the last year.

The council set aside $170 million for affordable housing, including funds for land acquisition, planning, design and construction, including homes for teachers and first responders.

In addition, $20 million was targeted to addressing homelessness, providing money for families in acute economic hardship, $35 million was set aside to build facilities to house the homeless and $20 million was earmarked to be used to build infrastructure for future affordable housing projects.

The fiscal 2024 budget also calls for the hiring of 16 additional beach lifeguards, along with $1.6 million in funding, to allow the Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services Division to fully implement dawn-to-dusk supervision at city beaches.

“Budgets are guiding documents that demonstrate our priorities,” chair Tommy Waters said in a statement after the hearing. “This budget continues to make it clear that this Council is committed to action on housing, increasing safety in our neighborhoods, and providing real property tax relief for local families.”

But a parade of residents, many of whom described themselves as struggling to get by, said that the council wasn’t doing enough to recognize the financial troubles faced by local families and urged the council to do more.

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