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Sandy Baz: Point Man for Maui County’s FY 2014 Budget

Budget Director Baz: Saying ‘no’ is the hardest part of the job.

January 24, 2013
Susan Halas - Senior Contributing Writer (wailukusue@gmail.com) , The Maui Weekly

It's just two months until March 25, when Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa submits his Fiscal Year 2014 annual budget package to the Maui County Council for consideration. If the upcoming financial document is anything like the current one, it will total more than $618 million in income and expenses from all sources and have an employee count of more than 2,500 public workers.

Working as the mayor's lead man in drafting the massive document is Sananda "Sandy" Baz, a cabinet-level appointee assisted by a staff of four. His job is to not only assemble the numbers, but also to shepherd them through the political process.

Baz, 40, who took the post in January 2011, was formerly the executive director of Maui Economic Opportunity (MEO), the top spot at one of Maui's largest nonprofit organizations, where he supervised a staff of more than 300.

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Maui County Budget Director Sandy Baz stressed that though the deadline for drafting the budget package is coming up fast, it’s still not too late to submit by email. He urged those who are considering writing to make their requests “short, clear and specific.” Emails can be sent to budget.office@mauicounty.gov. “We do read everything and it does receive consideration.”

Now on the ninth floor for two years, he shared some of his thoughts about the position and its responsibilities with the Maui Weekly. He also highlighted some areas of special interest for South Maui.

Though the average citizen probably will never have the impulse to sit down and read it cover to cover, it's all there in three fat volumes of over a 1,000 pages packed with numbers--both actual and projected. Should the desire seize you to view the current budget or any of the county's earlier budgets (back to 2007), they're at co.maui.hi.us/index.aspx?NID=1896.

If you're thinking of taking a peek, it will help if you understand the term "fiscal year" (FY). The county's FY runs from July 1 to June 30 and is named after the year the budget ends. Presently we are in FY 2013, and Baz is now working on preparing the draft for FY 2014.

For those hoping to receive county funds for a project, a position, a program or even to fix a pothole, being in the budget is one of the most important prerequisites to eventually getting the money.

There is a widespread belief that the County Council is where the decision-making actually occurs. Most people think the time to speak up is at public hearings held by the County Council in April and May, when it meets to discuss the mayor's proposal and make its own adjustments.

However, according to Baz, being included in the first draft is a lot easier than trying to get the council to add (or remove) something from the administration's proposal later on.

The council has until June 10 to pass its own version of the budget, or else the administration's package automatically goes into effect.

Given that "follow the money" is the first commandment in public policy, you'd think the open meetings the administration hosted in eight different geographic districts in September and October would have been packed with special pleaders.

But no, said Baz, "Only 23 people testified at the South Maui meeting held in the fall of 2011, and that, he said, "was one of the better-attended events."

The concerns expressed at that meeting were "generally roads, parks and nonprofit services."

Baz pointed out that just because nonprofit organizations are often more familiar with the budget cycle than the average resident, it doesn't mean that there's no place in the process for the requests and desires of individual citizens.

It's sometimes easier to put a request or suggestion in writing and send it by email than to give up an evening to attend a meeting.

"We do read everything, and it does receive consideration," he said.

He stressed that though the deadline for drafting the budget package is coming up fast, it's still not too late to submit by email. He urged those who are considering writing to make their requests "short, clear and specific." Emails can be sent to budget.office@mauicounty.gov.

As for what might be coming up in the future for South Maui, Baz is not yet ready to release the details, though he did say that he thought "there will be more discussion of a gym for the South Maui Regional Park."

He also singled out one item that he thought the community would do well to follow. That is the South Maui Regional Traffic Master Plan, a line item for $480,000 (mostly federal funds) in the current FY13 document. Since traffic is one of the most important factors in assessing and planning for future growth, he strongly recommended keeping an eye on that study and tracking its findings.

Also in the works are $1.5 million currently in the FY13 budget for expanded South Maui District water recycling and another $2 million projected to follow in FY14 through FY18.

Among the biggest ticket items for South Maui is the new regional Kihei Police Station with a price tag of $30 million, which is now under construction. Opening is anticipated by the end of the year.

Though not specifically related to South Maui, Baz also mentioned that a request for funding to construct 50,000 square feet or more of new office space and additional parking on the site of the old Wailuku Post Office (next door to the County Building) is likely to run about $25 million. He anticipated discussion of this new facility will be "lively." In his view, the case for building has more benefits than drawbacks because, "It costs more to rent than to pay the debt service to build."

Asked why the county would want to continue to squeeze into Wailuku, Baz responded that "the mayor is committed to Wailuku," and any move to locate the county's headquarters out of the town is unlikely to make progress during the Arakawa tenure.

Though there's infinite detail in the budget document, there's also information that continues to be elusive. According to Baz, there is an accurate count of how many vehicles the county owns and how much it costs the taxpayers to operate them; it's just not shown in the budget.

"We do know that information and we have just spent a significant amount of time on revising our vehicle policy," said Baz.

It's also difficult to find out specific salary information for individual positions. Baz himself was reluctant to say how much he earned as budget director, only commenting it was less than the $100,000 a year he took home at MEO.

As for his own role in the scheme of things, he's there to help implement "the mayor's vision." He finds the work interesting andenjoys his role coordinating with the public, the departments and the council. He sees the goal as making "sure we have the best impact on the community with the financing available."

And what's the hardest part of his job? "It's telling people 'no'--sometimes just an outright 'no,' and that's never easy."

 
 

 

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