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Honolulu's Next Budget Director Expects Challenges, 'A Tough 2022'

Mayor Rick Blangiardi
The Honolulu City Council is expected to confirm Andy Kawano as the city's next budget and fiscal services director on Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Updated 1/27/21, 1:09 p.m.

The Honolulu City Council has referred the appointment of Andy Kawano as the city's next budget director to its budget committee for further consideration. The city's department of budget and fiscal services has one of the largest responsibilities in city government.

Among other jobs, it oversees the city’s revenues, expenses, contracts and agreements – as well as providing financial support to all 23 city departments.

Mayor Rick Blangiardi named Andy Kawano as the next person to lead the department. He came to the city from Foodland Supermarket as its director of facilities.

Kawano has been the director-designate of the budget department for the last 12 days. He says his new job is challenging, but interesting.

"I’m starting to realize the large size of the city," he said. "We’re talking about 8,500 employees and a number of different operating departments on the campus. And the fact that we support, serve all of Oahu is kind of mindboggling as well. You go in thinking it’s not that big compared to the state of Hawaii, but it’s a significant operation."

Kawano will be challenged as the budget director, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to decimate the economy — with lingering impact.

In November, former acting budget director Manny Valbuena projected a city budget shortfall of more than $400-million. Last month, former mayor Kirk Caldwell outlined a proposal that he said would erase that shortfall without layoffs or furloughs.

Kawano says he is still going through the city’s finances, but adds that projected shortfall was made early in the pandemic, and things have changed.

"We have a better reading of where we are in terms of property tax collections. We have a better understanding of our debt service requirements, and we’ve been keeping tabs on some of the major programs and projects the city has ongoing during its current 2021 fiscal years," Kawano said.

"So it’s going to be very challenging. We really won’t know where we are until we set the priorities. As to what programs we’re going to continue for 2021, and where we’re going to focus our efforts in 2022."

Kawano says he has and will continue to discuss the city’s finances with Blangiardi.

But the course the city takes will depend on the administration’s priorities.

"The best case scenario would be to avoid any furloughs and staffing cuts, you know direct cuts," he said.

"I think what we can obviously do is take a look at the vacant positions we have, and whether or not they’re going to be funded or not. That’s going to happen over the next several weeks. And it’s going to be hard. We’re going to have to make some decisions along the way that will impact the course we take to balance the budget."

While Mayor Blangiardi has not yet presented his city budget, the operating budget under the last year of the Caldwell Administration was nearly three billion dollars.

The Council's budget committee will discuss Kawano's appointment during its next month. If approved, the Council will then confirm him as the city's next budget director.

The story has been corrected. An earlier version stated the Council was set to confirm Kawano as budget director during its monthly meeting today.

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