The Maui County Council's Budget and Finance Committee, chaired by Councilmember Mike White and hosted by South Maui Councilmember Don Couch, met on Monday, April 1, at 6 p.m., at the Kihei Community Center to hear the views of South Maui residents on the FY 2014 Maui County budget.
Slightly more than 100 people showed up to speak to the budget committee about a wide range of concerns that included continued funding for popular programs operated by Maui's nonprofit organizations.
Leading the list of concerns was a reported plan--since disavowed by Mayor Alan Arakawa--to possibly privatize a number of county recycling facilities and reduce the overall number of recycling centers.
Sixth-grader Josh Hinkel testified on behalf of council funding for the Best Buddies program. The program matches non-disabled school-age children with a “buddy” who is developmentally disabled and benefits greatly from the regular interaction with friend at school.
Among the speakers on this subject was Tom Reed, president and owner of Aloha Recycling.
"Here in Kihei, people are really getting into recycling, "he said. "Please continue to support recycling efforts."
Michael Reed Gach said she was disappointed and shocked the mayor said the private sector could do the recycling.
"I believe that if we rely on the private sector, we are going to recycle less," she said. "They will go for the buck. There are some places on Maui they will not serve and that means more trash into the landfill."
Another hot topic was the fate of the funding of the University of Hawai'i Maui College (UHMC) Oral Health Center, which may be reduced or eliminated.
Kathleen Mumford, a professor at UHMC in the Applied Health Care program, told the council committee there are 29,000 people on Maui enrolled in the Hawai'i State Medicaid program of healthcare for low-income individuals and families.
"Of those, the UHMC health program has served 6,800 people," she said. "Four thousand were people who did not have health insurance, and the majority of those were children."
Dentist Joanne Babot, who works at the UHMC Oral Health Center, testified that if the program were defunded, there was a possibility the college would lose its dental residency program. She asked what would happen to those with ongoing dental needs?
There was passionate testimony on future funding for the county's SNIP effort to spay, neuter and release feral cats no longer able to breed.
Leading a large group of people who stood when she testified, Aimee Anderson, an advocate for SNIP, asked the council for a funding increase from $75,000 to $85,000 in the coming year. She pledged that no administrative funds would be requested for the project, saving the county 10 percent of the funding that could then be used for services.
Several additional testifiers supported her position and requested the increased council funding to save the cats instead of catching and killing them.
Sixth-grader Josh Henkel asked the council to keep funding the Best Buddies program so that kids "can have the same experience I have had." Henkel is paired with a classmate with a disability. According to its Website, the mission of Best Buddies is to establish a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Karen Walker also supported Best Buddies funding. A student at Lokelani Elementary School, she told the council committee the program "gives students an opportunity to interact that they would not have otherwise."
Also testifying in support of education funding was Leomana Morondos, who talked about his experience as a student at the Hui Malama Learning Center.
"I came to Hui Malama because I was getting into a lot of trouble," he said. "Since I have been attending Hui Malama, it is easier for me to study and they are teaching me life skills. I also enjoy learning about Hawaiian culture."
Maui Economic Opportunity (MEO) programs received wide support with testimony in favor of MEO's bus system for youth and seniors, Head Start, Enlace Hispano services to the Hispanic population, the Being Empowered and Safe Together (BEST) program for prison inmate reintegration back into the community after serving their sentences and MEO's rental financial assistance program to prevent homelessness.
Myrna Blackburn-Stone testified that upon her release from Maui Community Correctional Center (MCCC), MEO's BEST program helped keep her family together.
"When I was ready for parole, they helped me with rides to look for work, provided me clothing and shoes for work," she said. "They also provided me with bus fare. I am still with MEO and I will be getting my driver's license tomorrow. Everything is getting better with MEO, and if it were not for MEO, I would just be another revolving door statistic. I know it has helped me and a lot of other people."
Marie Chavez, interim development director of the Hale Kau Kau program, asked the council to continue funding the meals program.
"We are feeding between 100 and 140 meals each evening, delivering 60 to 70 meals each evening to the sick and homebound and supplying emergency food supplies to families in crisis," she told the committee. Chavez said that in 2012, Hale Kau Kau served almost 57,000 meals--many to the working poor who do not have enough money for food at the end of the month.
Testifying in support of the Maui Convention and Visitors Bureau, Charles Head, general manager of the Fairmont Kea Lani, praised the work of the Bureau.
Commenting on the recovery of tourism on Maui following the Great Recession, Head said, "The recent and continued growth in visitation to Maui is in large part due to the efforts of the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau. MVCB utilizes funding received from Maui County to effectively market, promote and sell the island of Maui, both nationally and internationally. This provides Maui Nui with cohesion and complementary activities with our other islands."
Although it may do so earlier, the council has until June 10 to pass its version of the budget before sending it to the mayor for his approval or veto. If they do not pass their version on time, the March 25 budget proposal by the mayor will take effect on July 1, 2013.
For more information on the county budget, go to www.co.maui.hi.us, click the "Council" button and then click "Budget and Finance Committee."