The Honolulu City Council on Wednesday passed a $2.33 billion operating budget and $940 million capital improvements package for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
The operating budget is about $7 million more than a proposed version presented by Mayor Kirk Caldwell in March, and about $60 million more than the $2.27 billion 2016 budget.
The capital improvements budget, meanwhile, is about 13 percent more than the $834.6 million package in the mayor’s March submittal. The CIP budget for the current year is $569 million.
As in the past few years, much of the disagreement between the Caldwell administration and Council leadership during three months of budget deliberations involved how best to approach the homelessness problem and a lingering disagreement over grants-in-aid funding for Oahu nonprofit agencies.
Council Chairman Ernie Martin said that Bill 15, the capital improvements budget, includes more than $20 million in funding aimed at helping the homeless, the bulk of which comes in the form of $18 million, with $2 million for each Council district under the heading “community revitalization initiative.”
The funds are to be used for “land acquisition, lease, development, and/or renovation of facilities for urban rest stops, navigation centers, workforce/affordable housing, and other community-focused projects initiated by community stakeholders in partnership with state housing development agencies or qualified nonprofits.” (A “navigation center” is similar to what has been called a transitional shelter for homeless people.)
Martin, in a statement after the vote, said “every community on Oahu is dealing with homelessness but the particular issues differ by Council district, and the members need to take the lead by coordinating with the community stakeholders and city administration to execute a plan acceptable to all.”
An additional $3 million was included for an Iwilei hygiene center — $2 million in capital funds and $1 million in operating money — pushed by area Councilman Joey Manahan, and $400,000 for a mobile hygiene center initiative.
The Council, however, rejected Caldwell’s request for $470,000 to set up a new, eight-person asset development and management division to focus on acquiring and developing properties, primarily for affordable housing.
Without that staffing, the administration has insisted, it will be much harder to accomplish the homeless initiatives proposed by the Council. In his own statement following the budget votes, Caldwell said, “The Council once again cut all funding for staff urgently needed to purchase affordable housing and get homeless people off our streets.”
Last year the Council rejected Caldwell’s proposal for seven positions in the existing Office of Strategic Development that was also designed to acquire and develop properties.
Also in the budget are several million dollars appropriated for various Oahu nonprofits, beyond $5.9 million already set aside for nonprofits under language in the City Charter that requires one-half of 1 percent of general fund revenues be given as grants-in-aid to worthy agencies.
Council members have stated the additional grants are needed to help nonprofits at a time when they are losing federal funding, but the administration has insisted that the add-on grants amount to pork-barreling.
Caldwell cited the Council add-ons in nonprofit grants when he allowed to become law, but refused to sign, the operating budget bills in the past two years.
Councilman Brandon Elefante, who opposed the add-ons, said his staff found more than $6.4 million in additional grants that had been inserted by his colleagues, “general funds (taken) out of several departments’ operating budgets dedicated to core city services.”
Martin rebutted Elefante’s assertions, however, insisting no core services were jeopardized by the add-ons. “Essential services are funded to the levels that they should be funded,” he said.