Mere hours after Kirk Caldwell delivered his second State of the City address, the City Council's Budget Committee handed the mayor a major defeat by killing his proposal to collect a $10 monthly fee for weekly garbage collection.
Council Chairman Ernie Martin is not a member of the committee, but urged members to vote no on the proposal so it could not be included in the mayor's fiscal year 2015 budget, which begins July 1.
"The decision to eliminate the proposal for the garbage fee was best done now rather than wait until the mayor presents his budget," Martin told reporters.
Last March, the Council was left scrambling to fill a $15 million hole after Caldwell's plan to raise the city's fuel tax by a nickel per gallon was defeated on first reading. The trash fee proposal would have raised about $10 million in the upcoming fiscal year and about $21 million in subsequent years.
The mayor's spokesperson released a statement late Wednesday, saying Caldwell will continue to push for full City Council consideration of all revenue bills to balance the budget.
"The administration will continue to work with the City Council to find common ground. Mayor Caldwell will submit his budget as planned on Friday. If the Council chooses to reject the mayor's revenue proposals, we look forward to seeing their other proposed solutions to balance the budget," said Jesse Broder Van Dyke.
Last year, Caldwell notified council members that the city was facing a projected budget deficit of $156 million for FY-2015. The mayor began a cost-cutting plan across nearly every department that saved $20 million in general fund revenues. But with the defeat of the mayor's garbage fee proposal, Environmental Services Director Lori Kahikina said her department may be forced to cut services, and mentioned monthly bulky item pickup as an area to look at.
"We provide it for free every month as much as you want...and I think that's just too high level of service," Kahikina told KITV4. "We might have to consider cutting that back. I haven't of course spoken to the administration about this, but I hope they might consider this."
The Environmental Services director also revealed her department wracks up $600,000 to $700,000 in overtime costs every month, mostly due to a shortage of frontline refuse workers. If Kahikina can get a handle on those costs, it would result in savings of $7 to $8 million per year.
"We have to have government run efficiently so that we try to avoid overtime because that is a great cost in many departments, and we have to look at all of that," said Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi.
Meanwhile, a 9.9 percent increase in property tax assessments will help the mayor achieve his goal of presenting a balanced budget, which is mandated by the City Charter. The mayor also expects to save $37 million in the upcoming fiscal year by eliminating 618 city positions through attrition, a goal he highlighted in his State of the City speech.
"This not only helps us in the short-term, but in the long-term it serves to reduce our massive unfunded liability for retirement and health care costs, which is a burden on all of us," said Caldwell.
Martin and the mayor have been pushing state lawmakers to lift the cap on Honolulu's share of the hotel room tax, which could result in $31 million more to the city. Currently, all four counties divide $93 million from the lucrative tax, with Honolulu getting the lion's share at 44.1 percent, or $41 million per year.