Attention has been focused on the state’s financial woes, but newly elected Mayor Peter Carlisle conveyed the reminder that the economy is also creating a need for extensive belt-tightening at the city level.
Without giving many specifics in yesterday’s State of the City address, he vowed to tackle Honolulu’s fiscal crisis without engaging in party politics or continuing the "abysmal record" of repairing and maintaining the island’s infrastructure.
The financial message was bleak, yes, but the tone optimistic — quite necessary less than a week before Carlisle delivers his itemized budget to the City Council.
Most notably, the mayor endorsed City Council Chairman Nestor Garcia’s proposal to increase some user fees, including the deal of golfing fees for residents over 60 years old. He cited the ridiculous weekday bargain of $4.50 a round, a small fraction of the price charged at privately owned courses. He cited a City Council resolution that the entire cost of service be paid with user fees.
Carlisle added that he is considering selling "remnant" and "nonproductive" city-owned real estate that takes money to maintain — level-headed business thinking that may have to be justified parcel by public parcel. He made no mention of whether or how he will end furloughs for city workers, although stated he intends to have "continued lean operating budgets."
A major focus, he said, is finding ways to "streamline government and make it more nimble and responsive to the public."
Among the promising ideas: The mayor said he wants to replace the city’s existing parking meters with a system that accepts credit cards. He pointed to study findings that systems allowing credit cards have increased revenues by 17 percent to 93 percent, with a 32 percent increase typical. Many cities on the mainland have been using the modern system for years. It’s about time Honolulu get aboard, for reasons of revenue enhancement as well as user ease.
As for the infrastructure, Carlisle pointed to positive early test results of a "slurry seal" to reduce potholes in the city’s roads; follow through with upgrades to its sewage and water systems, which he acknowledged will hit consumers with steeper bills; and continue to invest in energy efficiency and waste disposal as construction of the HPOWER’s third boiler is completed by the end of this year. Those are costs that the city cannot afford to avoid.
The most refreshing promise Carlisle made was to avoid partisan politics, pointing out that the mayor and City Council, like his former position as city prosecutor, are nonpartisan by law. City Hall "has shifted from one that was shaped by political expediency to one that emphasizes professional management," said Carlisle, whose background is Republican.
While Democrat Mufi Hannemann and Republican Linda Lingle rarely cooperated from their positions as mayor and governor, especially on the issue of homelessness, Carlisle said the city would devote $2.5 million to "create an affordable housing partnership with the state." There is much hope that the new city Office of Housing, to launch in July, will start making a notable difference to those in need by working closely with the state and the private sector.
Carlisle is right in observing that many people "are sick and tired of politics." The challenge will be to follow through with his promised policy of nonpartisan professionalism as he tries to sell a lean budget and higher user fees to the Council — and to the public.