- Associated Press - Monday, February 13, 2017

HILO, Hawaii (AP) - Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim says he’s trying to figure out a way to cover an expected $12 million shortfall in the county budget without raising taxes for residents on the Big Island.

Kim must submit his preliminary budget to the County Council by March 1, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported (https://bit.ly/2kJJcyV).

Kim says he’s weighing several options to make up the difference between anticipated revenue and anticipated expenses, but he wants to keep raising taxes off the table.

According to Kim, most people on the island are one or two paychecks away from being homeless. He said more than 90 percent of students in Kau and more than 70 percent of students in Puna qualify for the free and reduced-cost lunch program for low-income families.

“How can I raise taxes on these people?” he asked.

The county’s open space land fund, which allows 2 percent of property tax revenues to be used to buy land for environmental and cultural protection, has made things difficult for Kim, who says the $4 million that goes to the fund each year accounts for one-third of his budget gap. He said he would rather put the money toward police and fire departments.

Former Mayor Billy Kenoi was able to suspend the land fund during tough budget times, but it has since been set in the county charter, making it impossible to suspend without a ballot initiative.

Kim says he has several decisions to make and is still in the process of finalizing the budget proposal.

“I’m still in the review,” Kim said. “I’m not sure of definitive actions we have to take.”

Last year’s budget was $462.7 million, up 5.5 percent increase from the previous year.

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Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, https://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/

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