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Hawaii News

Bill to change fund oversight is deferred

Seen as a "power grab" by critics, a proposal aimed at restructuring the commission that oversees the city’s Clean Water and Natural Lands Fund is viewed by supporters as a way to take politics out of the mix when deciding how the money should be spent.

The proposal was deferred yesterday by the City Council Budget Committee after nearly two hours of debate focusing on who should appoint members of the Clean Water and Natural Lands Commission and whether it should make recommendations to the Council or the mayor.

Established in 2007, the commission made its first recommendations to the Council only last year.

Of the six conservation projects recommended to the Council, four were included in the budget with an appropriation of about $4 million. Funds have been released for one — $600,000 for saving a North Shore ranch from a proposed gentleman’s farm housing subdivision.

"Not a roaring success," Budget Chairman Nestor Garcia said. "So the process is not working. That’s why we have this resolution in front of us."

Garcia said he felt the proposal, Resolution 10-149, would depoliticize the process and get the mayor’s office to become more involved.

Currently, the Council appoints all nine members of the commission with certain background qualifications to ensure expertise in matters of preservation and land stewardship.

The administration introduced Resolution 10-149, which proposes to replace the commission with a nine-member Clean Water and Natural Lands Advisory Committee equally appointed by the Council and mayor, with no background qualifications specified. The committee would make recommendations to the mayor’s office, not the Council.

Commission members called the proposal a power grab, noting that the administration has not participated in the vetting process since the commission’s first year. Critics also noted how the mayor’s office this year included $3 million from the fund for land acquisition of a new regional park in Nanakuli without submitting the project for review by the commission.

"Out of respect to the Council’s process, you should’ve put that into the commission’s list of projects to be evaluated," Councilman Gary Okino said.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann expressed dissatisfaction last year with the process that gave the Council final approval on which projects received funding.

Administration officials testified that the executive branch would have better resources for vetting projects, further arguing that the mayor’s office should have final say on which projects get included in the budget.

"The administration would want to submit as complete a budget to the Council as possible," said Budget Director Rix Maurer III. "I think that if we don’t get the recommendations from the commission, then we can’t do that."

Councilman Ikaika Anderson questioned the necessity of the resolution, saying the administration could always question the inclusion of any project during the normal budgeting process.

"Other than the administration wanting more authority here, I don’t really see the need for this," Anderson said.

Garcia decided to defer the resolution, saying he wanted to work with the administration and the commission on the issues raised at the hearing.

The Clean Water and Natural Lands Fund was approved by voters in 2006 and draws about $4 million annually from its 0.5 percent share of real property tax revenues.


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