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Budget Released to Disharmony

Maui County to introduce furloughs.

It’s the woman whose shoulders bear the weight of four children; the doctor whose success is measured by the well being of his patients; the humble teacher dedicated to higher learning; and the recovering drug addict who’s discovered resilience amid a tough battle.

Every one of these individuals – and many more – was seen at last week’s public hearing for the County of Maui’s 2011 Fiscal Year (FY 2011) budget proposal.  Some offered gratitude for the continued support of cardinal services, others pleaded for funding, or to simply keep things as they are. 

On March 15, Mayor Charmaine Tavares released a $530 million budget proposal to the council’s Budget and Finance Committee. The economic downturn resulted in a 6 percent reduction of allotted funds compared to FY 2010.

The $30 million gap will be filled by cuts to services and nonprofits, for the third year in a row. Included is a property tax increase, a rise in utility rates, one-day-a-month furloughs for most Maui County employees, and various service fee hikes.

The Budget and Finance Committee – comprised of all nine County Council members – is tasked with bringing the mayor’s budget to the people, gathering input, implementing possible changes, and then balancing the funds.

“The council has the final say over the numbers for each island,” said Councilman Bill Kauakea Medeiros. “If one program needs funds, we have to find that money from another program.”

As the board sat before about 70 testifiers during the March 30 hearing at Mitchell Pauole Center, there was one thing made very clear: on Molokai, when it comes to igniting action, there is strength in numbers.

Speak Now
While some asked for continued support of mental health programs, the Maui Food Bank, the drop-in center, the schools’ robotics program and the Molokai Youth Center, the most heated discussion was about the proposed bus fare.

Currently, riding the bus is free to all patrons.  But come July, anyone who utilizes Maui Economic Opportunity (MEO) transportation may have to fork over a few bucks to get around town. The mayor plans on imposing a $1 bus fee for any of its scheduled routes – essentially to help cover the $7 million in costs for bus operations and the construction of bus shelters.

The fee poses a major inconvenience for some, who can’t afford to pay when the bus is their main mode of transportation.

“It’s difficult getting around Molokai,” said Anthony Spearman, one concerned community member. “[The bus] provides a needed service for those who can’t afford it or have no job. We need help.”

Judith Gardner agreed, claiming many disabled persons are on a fixed income and wouldn’t have the money to pay the bus fee.

“I’m a client of MEO and represent Home Pumehana,” she said. “[We] need the MEO bus to go shopping, go to doctor’s appointments. Many have no car. We hope you can help us and keep things as they are.”

Among other topics discussed was the importance of the emergency medi-vac helicopter.

Testifier Scotty Schaefer took the stage in support of the chopper and spoke on behalf of his wife, Ho`olehua pastor Lynette Schaefer.

“We need to continue to fund the helicopter,” he said. “Too many grieving family members watched loved ones die – needlessly because there wasn’t enough time. It is a tool that has been put in the hands of emergency providers, a tool that has saved many lives.”

Dr. Bill Thomas, director of Molokai General Hospital, added it is critical to be able to transport emergency victims to other facilities to get the services they need, hence the need for the helicopter.

“We’re still not staffed to handle trauma patients,” Thomas said. “We need this helicopter because survival relies on timeliness of transfer. I understand it’s a big investment, but it’s an investment Molokai relies on.”

More Furloughing

Besides wading through numerous debilitating cuts, the mayor is also calling for 12 furlough days as a means to save on expenditures, one for each month of the next fiscal year.

The furloughs will affect most employees, including unionized Hawaii Government Employees Association and United Public Workers employees, division heads and managers. The mayor, her appointed staff, directors and deputies, and other managerial staff will also be affected.

The furlough plan will reduce employees’ compensation by 4.6 percent and reduce operating expenses by $15 million.

Although the furloughs are undesirable for most, it is still less than the proposed plan for Honolulu, whose mayor plans to enact two furlough days a month for city and county employees on Oahu.

Councilman Medeiros said once the public hearings conclude, the council will deliberate the budget in the chambers and make amendments if needed by May 31.

The final balanced budget for FY 2011 will go into affect on July 1.

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