Caldwell plan for garbage fee could be trashed
Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s plan to impose a $5 monthly curbside trash pickup fee on Oahu households may be tossed into the rubbish heap, Honolulu City Council Budget Chairman Joey Manahan said.
“I don’t think the members are going to accept trash fees,” Manahan said during a break from a marathon budget briefing that spilled over from Wednesday and into Thursday.
Manahan’s committee Thursday voted to move out a version of Bill 14 that removes all dollar amounts. All five committee members present voted yes “with reservations.” Several committee members said they only voted to advance the plan to allow all nine Council members the chance to weigh in on it. Manahan said the bill also could move without any fee because it contains a separate section that would establish a phone-in-only system for bulky item pickup. Currently, bulky item crews roam neighborhoods during designated days once a month.
Previous attempts by the administration to impose a trash fee also have failed. Honolulu is the only county that does not charge a fee for pickup.
Meanwhile the Budget Committee moved out a property tax rate plan that would cut Caldwell’s planned rate increase for hotel and resort properties to one-half cent per $1,000 of assessed value from 1 cent per $1,000.
A separate proposal to increase the tax rate on investment properties — by $1.50 more per $1,000 for the second tier of calculations — was allowed to pass without changes as part of Resolution 19-55.
Caldwell’s budget package of bills and resolutions, which includes a $2.83 billion operating budget that’s about 8.6 percent more than this year’s budget, next goes to the full Council for the second of three votes.
The Budget Committee heard from a slew of agency chiefs over an 11-hour meeting Wednesday and needed to return to the committee room Thursday morning to finish its work. That’s because Manahan began Wednesday by distributing a plan to eliminate $64 million in current expenses — from pencils to travel — from various agencies. By Thursday the committee had restored about $27 million, Manahan said. Essential service agencies such as the Police, Fire and Emergency Services departments were spared from most of the cuts.
Manahan said he wants to see whether the budget can be balanced without increasing taxes or instituting the trash fee.
City Managing Director Roy Amemiya urged committee members to approve the three “revenue- enhancing measures.”
“We strongly believe that our proposals are necessary to position our great city for the many challenges facing us,” Amemiya said, pointing to unfunded employee and retiree benefit liabilities, the homeless and affordable- housing issues and climate change among the concerns.
The refuse pickup fee would bring in a projected $5.8 million, the hike in resort-hotel tax rates to $13.90 per $1,000 from $12.90 per $1,000 expected to bring an additional $17 million, and the hike in the Residential A Tier 2 rate — to $10.50 per $1,000 from $9 per $1,000 — an additional $14 million.
“We need to ask ourselves, Do we cut services to our residents … at the very time that more services are needed, or do we take the unpopular but responsible action of seeking new revenue sources?” Amemiya asked.
He said imposing a trash fee is fair because only those who receive the benefit would need to pay while those who currently don’t receive the service, who have to pay for private hauling services, won’t need to pay.
Manahan’s proposal to reduce the percentage increase in hotel-resort rates would net an estimated $8.5 million less than the administration’s plan. Before making its decision, the committee faced a full-court press from a host of tourism leaders, led by former Mayor and current Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association President Mufi Hannemann, who argued that the visitor industry has been paying more than its share and that indications are visitor counts may be headed into a downward cycle.
Also during the budget briefings:
>> Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi refused to support the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s capital improvements budget because she has lingering concerns about plans to enter a public-private partnership to finish construction and then operate and maintain it for 30 years. Tsuneyoshi said the agency tasked with building the $9 billion project has not communicated well with Council members on the proceedings. HART officials promised to present an update.
>> Councilwoman Kymberly Pine criticized the administration for spending too much for improvements at Ala Moana Regional Park when major parks in her West Oahu district are unable to land a single dedicated groundskeeper. The committee decided to withhold, for now, $10 million that’s been set aside for sand replenishment.