The Honolulu City Council budget committee has some changes in store for Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s inaugural spending plan.

The proposed adjustments reflect a council that’s both supportive yet skeptical of the new mayor’s lofty first-year ambitions, which include repaving the city’s pockmarked roadways and restoring the Carlisle administration’s cuts to bus service.

The budget committee, which is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the revisions, also wants to know how the city plans to come up with an additional $26 million for anticipated salary increases that are a result of recent union labor negotiations.

One funding option that’s being floated is using money from vacant positions, a long-standing point of contention between previous administrations and city council members, who have likened the practice to a shell game.

Council members believe the onus is on Caldwell to show them where the funds will come from for the union raises, and they’re now waiting on him to point them in the right direction.

“The administration has to do that,” Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said. “They also have to tell us what money they set aside knowing that there would be salary increases.”

Salary increases have been expected. Most employees took a 5 percent pay cut in 2009 that’s slated to expire July 1, and all four unions representing city employees have been negotiating new contracts.

The Caldwell administration has anticipated needing extra money to help pay for the new contracts, but did not include anything specific in the mayor’s budget outlining where the money might come from.

Caldwell spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke said the mayor will work with the council on their proposals to account for the salary increases. They will also discuss possible new sources of revenue with council members, he said.

“The mayor submitted a balanced budget prior to the contracts coming in,” Broder Van Dyke said in an email. “He is working with the council as they deliberate the budget proposal.”

Caldwell’s administration had suggested the council resurrect his 5-cent gas tax to help free up money to pay for the increases, but that proposal hasn’t seemed to get the political support the mayor wanted. It was estimated the tax would raise about $15 million a year for road repairs.

The City Council cut nearly $27 million in funded, vacant positions in its first round with Caldwell’s budget. While there’s a proposal to restore some of those dollars, the remaining unbudgeted dollars could be used to help pay for the union salary increases. Money could also come from other cuts the council makes.

“We’re going to have big salary increases for all the unions,” Kobayashi said. “We have to make sure we have money left in the kitty to pay everyone.”

Reduced Road Repairs

Another point of friction between the council and Caldwell is over how much money should be spent next year on road repairs.

Caldwell has allotted $150 million in his budget to try to smooth the ride for motorists. It’s been one of the top priorities of his new administration.

While Caldwell says he can spend the money, Council Chair Ernie Martin has been less certain. Last year $100 million was allocated for road improvements, but only $1 million has been used so far.

The council initially cut Caldwell’s $150 million proposal down to $100 million. But now Martin is suggesting boosting the amount back to $120 million in the coming year with the possibility of 10 percent increases the following five years.

Councilman Ikaika Anderson also proposed restoring some funding for road repairs, but is suggesting giving Caldwell $125 million rather than increasing funding levels in future budgets.

“I recognize that many members, myself included, are apprehensive of the City’s ability to fully expend the amount originally proposed,” Anderson said in his written budget amendment proposal. “Nonetheless, I also recognize the need for flexibility should the City find itself able to exceed historical expenditure levels for road rehabilitation.”

Bring Back DaBus

One place the council doesn’t think Caldwell has spent enough money is public transit, and in particular bus service.

Councilman Ron Menor has suggested spending an additional $1 million to increase the frequency of Route E, which runs from Ewa Beach to Waikiki. Martin had also previously recommended a $1 million boost to bus service on the North Shore to increase frequency.

Several routes were cut when former Mayor Peter Carlisle sought ways to slash funds that were dedicated to the bus. Council members have been looking for ways to restore those routes ever since.

Carlisle’s administration made $7 million in cost-saving route cancellations and adjustments, much to the chagrin of riders who found themselves waiting longer at bus stops and standing in the aisles.

Caldwell has promised voters that he would restore bus routes, but it’s still a work in progress.

He included $3.5 million in his budget proposal to add routes and has been working with his administration to make adjustments to Carlisle’s cuts. Some council members say that’s still a far cry from a full restoration.

During a town hall meeting at Kaimuki High School Monday, Caldwell’s director of transportation, Michael Formby, outlined the mayor’s restoration plan, saying it would come in phases. Formby also said that Carlisle’s changes to service weren’t all bad.

“The mayor always said to me this is not the end all to the bus changes, this is the beginning,” Formby said. “I’m convinced by the time the entire thing plays out the transiting public will notice that things have gotten better.”

Pet Projects and Other Pukas

There are several projects in both the operating and capital budgets that council members themselves would like to see funded.

They include:

  • $3.5 million for grants-in-aid to serve at-risk populations and underserved communities, including funds to prevent youth violence and pregnancy at Farrington, Campbell, Kapolei and Leliehua high schools and $100,000 for a Wahiawa Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy. (Ernie Martin)

  • $200,000 to fund four positions to monitor public restrooms in Waikiki. These individuals will help maintain and clean the facilities. (Stanley Chang)

  • $1.5 million for grants for community organizations on the Leeward Coast. The program was initially started under the Mufi Hannemann administration to offset the impacts to residents for housing the island’s only landfill. The money was appropriated in the current year’s budget, but never spent. (Kymberly Pine)

  • $1.1 million to build an affordable mixed-use space for artists to work and live in the Kakaako area. Another $150,000 would go toward developing a program to help these individuals. (Ann Kobayashi)

  • $660,000 for the Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services Gulick Elder Center rehabilitation project to remove mold and increase ADA accessibility. (Carol Fukunaga)

Caldwell’s operating budget called for $2.09 billion in spending in Fiscal Year 2014. His proposed capital budget is $623 million.

You can see the council’s latest round of proposed changes to the budget here.

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