New Honolulu council considering user fees - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

New Honolulu council considering user fees

Ernest Martin and Breene Harimoto Ernest Martin and Breene Harimoto
Stanley Chang Stanley Chang
Tulsi Gabbard-Tamayo Tulsi Gabbard-Tamayo

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Four new city council members were sworn in at Honolulu Hale today.  They'll be working with a new council chair and mayor and the new group is already pushing some new ideas.  Priority number one is the budget and filling a $100 million shortfall and one of the things they're looking at is user fees.

The four new members include former City Community Services Director Ernest Martin, Board of Education member Breene Harimoto, former state lawmaker Tulsi Gabbard-Tamayo and attorney Stanley Chang, who at 28 years old brings youth to the council.

"People ask me if I'm even old enough to vote," laughed Chang, who represents East Honolulu.

Among their first duties was to listen to a 25 minute speech from new council chair Nestor Garcia who correctly predicted this section of the speech would generate a lot of attention.

"Perhaps it's a good time to again consider a "pay as you go" system for city services," said Garcia in his speech.

This could mean adding or raising prices for things like parking, camping, golfing and use of parks and facilities like the Blaisdell Center.

"It's sometimes called user fees.  I will ask my colleagues to take a closer look at a fairer system to generate revenue by having those who benefit from a public service pay for that service," said Garcia.

It's a way of avoiding raising property taxes.  Garcia says the idea actually came from new Mayor Peter Carlisle.

"This is an opportunity for us to say look we need to be paid for what you're getting," said Mayor Carlisle. "There is nothing that is sacred anymore, we have to look at everything that we're doing, and can we do it smarter, more efficiently."

He disagrees with those that may think user fees are just another tax.

"It's different because it will be something that you don't necessarily have to use. For example if you want to go to a park and there is a user fee, then you have to be paying the user fee. On the other hand you don't have to go to the park. However property is something we all live on in some shape fashion or form typically."

There could even be some situations where the city would charge for certain emergency calls like police and fire.

"If somebody sets off a firework and it burns down all sorts of things, is there any reason why we shouldn't get that person to reimburse the city," said Carlisle.

Carlisle also said continuing furloughs for city employees is not an option he's considering.

"It was a bad idea from the get go and it's not something I'm going to condone in any shape, fashion or form."

The new city council members seemed open to the idea of the pay as you go system at this point, but a lot can change as they've only been on the job a few hours.

"User fees I think is something that is long time coming, but I think we need to be fair to be sure whatever type of fee structure we're looking to introduce is fair for our residents," said Ernest Martin, Mililani Mauka and North Shore.

"Frankly everything has to be on the table because there are not a lot of good options there are only hard choices at this point," said Stanley Chang, East Honolulu.

"There are so many different issues that are going to be on the table right now which is why it's such an exciting time. There are lots of challenges of course but many opportunities that go along with that," said Tulsi Gabbard-Tamaya, Downtown Honolulu.

"In concept make sense as we're looking for more ways to fill the gaps, that's one way we could do it but we need to take a hard look at the impact to citizens though," said Breene Harimoto, Pearl City and Aiea.

They stood together in unity for a picture today and time will tell how they work together as a council in the future.

The ninth member of the council, Tom Berg who represents Leeward Oahu will take office in two weeks.

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