Dozens show up to oppose cuts in city operating budget

Kaleve Tufono Iosefa
Kaleve Tufono Iosefa
Kelfred Chang
Kelfred Chang

By Ben Gutierrez - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Raising admission at Honolulu Zoo. Higher sewer fees and property taxes. Paying more to tee off at a municipal golf course.

Those are among the proposals before the Honolulu City Council in its efforts to balance a $1.9 billion dollar operating budget for the coming fiscal year.

Those proposals include raising the city's gas tax by six cents a gallon over the next three years, from 16 and a-half cents to 22 and a-half cents. Only one person testified before the council on that proposal.

However, more than 50 people testified against the operating budget's proposal to slash the funding for the Mayor's Office of Culture and the Arts.

One of the office's major projects is the popular Honolulu City Lights.

"There is no money," said MOCA director Kaleve Tufono Iosefa. "Families don't have money that they're able to take their children. Where are you going to be able to go and see Christmas? if there's no MOCA, there's no Honolulu City Lights."

Under the proposed budget, the office's staffing would be cut from seven positions to one. Iosefa said that would make it difficult to coordinate Honolulu City Lights, or other events, like the Book and Music Festival, or to maintain many of the art pieces around the city, including the Duke Kahanamoku statue on Waikiki Beach.

The proposal also would cut funds for the Office of Economic Development. Several told the council that cutting funding for that office would reduce income for the city.

One example was the annual Month in Chinatown, held during Chinese New Year, which draws big crowds.

"If everybody spent only ten dollars for that one event, that's $600,000 that's coming into our economy in just one day," said Kelfred Chang of Chinatown Merchants. "Is that worth the $500,000 that they're saying they want to cut off from the two department's combined?"

Councilman Romy Cachola countered that while events like Month in Chinatown may boost revenues for businesses, the taxes don't go to the city.

"We work so hard," he said. "We generate and develop businesses. But most of the revenues go to the state."

Council budget chairman Ernie Martin said the door is still open to revise the budget.

"While we will be looking at restoration of some funding, I can say with much confidence that there will be further reductions. We'll be looking at other reductions."

The council approved the operating budget, which goes back before the council's budget committee May 17.

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