Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is seeking a nearly $3 billion operating budget for the next fiscal year, one that earmarks millions for the controversial rail project. The proposal also calls for $1.27 billion in capital improvement spending.
Caldwell unveiled his budget plan on Tuesday. It will be his last as he prepares to exit the mayor's office at the end of the year.
The proposal reflects about a 5% increase over the previous fiscal year’s operating budget. While it covers everything from parks to police, the plan includes a major allocation of $71.3 million dollars to operate the rail line.
The $9 billion, 20-mile transit line is expected to start service at the end of this year after delays and cost overruns. A federal investigation into its development is continuing.
Last week, the city announced it had signed a 13-year agreement with Hitachi worth $918 million to operate the transit system, or about $69 million a year.
Caldwell said the $71.3 million budget proposal for rail operations also includes staff positions, electricity costs and other expenses not included in the Hitachi contract.
In addition, there are other transportation costs related to rail. City Transportation Services Director Wes Frysztacki said $6 million will cover two special bus routes.
"We’re going to have at Aloha Stadium, a bus that will be waiting for every train to arrive," Frysztacki said. "As people get off the train, they’ll be able to go on that bus – it’ll be what we call pulse scheduling.
"That bus will go into downtown and to Aloha Stadium. Since we’ll be ultimately replacing that route with the rail system itself, this will be contracted service."
Frysztacki says another route will provide service to and from UH West Oʻahu and Kapolei.
Rail has been an exorbitantly expensive item for the city, one that most recently caused Caldwell in part to suspend renovations to the Neal S. Blaisdell Center.
Caldwell said although his budget proposal is an increase over last year, he’s not calling for new taxes. He and the City Council hiked property taxes and fees last year, he said, anticipating that the transit line would start operating this year.
"Part of the reason we did that is we wanted to make sure we had revenue this year to cover costs – particularly with rail coming online. And we recognize ... this is an election year. So I thought it was more fiscally prudent to do it last year to assist us this year, and even in the coming year," he said.
There will be some fee increases, the mayor noted, but mainly for construction permits and use of municipal golf courses.
The $1.27 billion capital improvement budget proposal amounts to a 8.7% increase over the previous year. The budget includes $43.6 million for the phased development of the Blaisdell Center, and funding for the Waikīkī Natatorium. A significant portion of the budget will go towards sanitation, which includes sewer projects and trash pick-ups.
The budget proposal next goes to the council for review.
You can see Mayor Caldwell's proposed budgets below.
Operating Budget Proposal:
CIP Budget Proposal: