Community Talks County Budget
Maui County mixed things up at this year’s community budget meetings with a new format that allowed residents, organizations and community leaders more focused opportunities to add input to the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2015-2016.
The new format rotated community members through tables of staff from each county department. County directors and staff members listened to concerns, addressed budget needs and answered questions about department-specific county-related issues. Attendees were given a form to write down their comments. All concerns were submitted to Budget Director for the Mayor’s Office Sandy Baz at the end of the meeting.
“This new format is being very well received from the community,” Baz said. “For 20 years, we’ve been doing it with this idea of somebody standing in front of a microphone for three minutes and providing one-way testimony. We wanted to bring public engagement to the 21st century.”
Testimony from residents was the most received at a Molokai community budget meeting, Baz said.
Mayor Alan Arakawa said it’s important for the government to evaluate community concerns on major issues and address them in the budget.
“From renovating Mitchell Pauole Center to the fire station that has been built, all of that came from public testimony from the people on this island,” said Arakawa. “It’s your tax dollars that we’re going to be redistributing to pay for services that will best support your community.”
Parks and Rec
Several large projects such as the Mitchell Pauole Center and the parking lot expansion and light installation at Duke Maliu Regional Park are being tackled by the Dept. of Parks and Recreation this year, according to Deputy Director Brianne Savage.
“We have a lot of overdue maintenance projects that have not been taken care of for many years because there hasn’t been funding for them,” she said.
In this year’s budget, County Council provided additional capital expenditure improvement monies for each of the eight districts. Molokai received $6.9 million, or 6.3 percent, for Fiscal Year 2015. The budget allocated $50.11 million, or 45.3 percent, for countywide projects.
Now, Molokai has the money to catch up on repairs on corroding chain-link fencing at youth sports fields and restroom renovations at Papohaku Beach Park, Savage said. She said several of the maintenance projects will take place in 2015.
“Our goal is to try to get all of our specifications and projects scheduled and organized in the next couple of months so that hopefully as soon as we hit 2015 we can actually start executing the work, Savage said.
Molokai Occupational Center (MOC) and Molokai Youth Center (MYC) gave testimony concerning the lack of lighting at their job sites.
The major concern by MOC employees, which has a grant with Parks and Recreation to perform maintenance, is the lack of lighting when they clean the restrooms, said center employee Tammy Lynn Ross. Ross said sometimes it’s completely dark.
Jacob Puaa-Spencer, a representative for the MYC, said the light timer at the youth center needs to be reset. Lights remain on longer than scheduled, wasting electricity. He said he would also like more lights installed along the youth center parking lot.
Savage said Parks and Recreation will address these concerns immediately.
Business and Economic Development
The county has done well supporting business boosting services on Molokai such as the Maui Economic Opportunity (MEO) Business Development Center and the classes they provide, according to Jennifer Hawkins, Kuha`o Business Center small business specialist. Hawkins represented Teena Rasmussen, the director of Office of Economic Development, at the meeting.
“We offer classes and counsel people on starting a new business in the county,” Hawkins said. “We work with the businesses to get educational opportunities here on island to meet their needs.”
Partners like Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) and MEO Transportation, both funded through the county, offer classes that are important for the community, said Edwin Mendija, owner of Mendija’s Repair. Mendija said he wrote his testimony for the continuation of MEO’s Core Four Business Planning Classes and other training opportunities.
“I’m hearing a lot of support for, not only MEO Business Development Center, but also MEDB,” Hawkins said. “People want funds for the STEM Program and other youth and engineering opportunities that MEO and MEDB provide the young people here on island. Both of those services have a tremendous impact.”
Many people expressed that the MEO bus is an integral service for Molokai, and called to keep bus funding, Baz said.
“MEO Maui Bus on Molokai is an important service for the community. People are asking for and want to see more busses here,” Baz said. “The county is very appreciative of MEO to provide this service to Molokai residents.”
The Molokai Humane Society depends on funding from private citizens to care for the hundreds of animals it serves each year, according to Executive Director Hoala Davis.
Davis called on support from the Dept. of Housing and Human Concerns and Maui Police Department’s animal control services. She said she wants funds allocated towards bridging a connection between Molokai and Maui’s Humane Society. This would help to save more lives, Davis said.
Due to an influx of animals received and a lack of space to house them at Molokai Humane Society, some animals are sent to the Maui Humane Society, Davis said.
“The condition of animals sent to Maui upon arrival really determines the amount of time they are in the shelter, that’s a nice way of saying if they were sick on arrival they got put down,” she said. “We’re trying to make sure that any animal that goes to Maui from Molokai will be healthy and adoptable.”
Being able to provide veterinary care, preventative medication for fleas and ticks, vaccinations and spayed and neutered programs are some of the services Davis would like to introduce with money from the budget, she said.
“That’s going to require a bigger partnership between the Maui Humane Society, animal control officers, our organization and the community,” Davis said. “We need a solution that makes sense, works, isn’t going to be incredibly expensive, but at the same time, saves as many lives as possible.”
Davis said the new budget meeting system was a great opportunity for her to address every department necessary. At last year’s budget meeting, Molokai Humane Society was last to be called to give testimony.
The Next Step
Other services and issues that received support included the PALS Program, which provides a recreation program for county children during summer and intersession breaks, as well as the Red Cross, MEO’s Head Start Program and replacement of the Kaunakakai Gym.
“The general consensus is people saying thank you and to continue the support,” Baz said. “Everybody’s appreciative of the support, but there are a few recommendations for increase services in different areas.”
Molokai voiced which public services need continuation and additional support from the county for the next fiscal year beginning July 1, 2015. After each county department submits their budget proposals and all public comment is collected, the county will analyze their projected revenues and compile a budget, which will be presented to the County Council on March 25, 2015, Baz said Council has until June 10 to approve the budget, which would take effect July 1.
“Having an opportunity for discussion on issues with the idea of being able to ask questions and get responses on both sides, so we can get a clearer picture on what it is residents want is why we tried this new format,” Baz said. “We’ll take this [testimony] into account as we develop the budget.”
The community can continue to provide input about the budget by emailing testimony to Sandy Baz at Sandy.Baz@mauicounty.gov until Oct. 31.