There may be Maui County taxpayers wondering why Maui County Council members should be rewarding their staff in difficult economic times. It's because they can - an outcome of growth that county leaders have perpetuated through the past half century, supported by Maui County taxpayers who voted them into office.
One factor is the Maui County Charter changes installed in 1976, after the initial decadelong transition from a board of supervisors to a mayor/council form of governance. Former county supervisors who had exercised administrative authority over county departments under the old system chafed under the 1968 charter that relegated them to promulgating policies.
It didn't help that the mayor shepherding the county through the transition to mayor/council was particularly adept at exercising the authority granted to the office and influencing the legislative processes.
But in 1976, a county Charter Commission attempted to induce a new balance between mayor and council, adding to the administrative side a managing director that diluted the mayor's direct control over departments while adding an Office of Council Services to allow the County Council its own aides and analysts in tracking machinations of the executive.
It was a formula for open-ended expansion of county staffing. But it occurred in a county experiencing an economic growth spurt generated by an expanding resort industry coupled with a burgeoning real estate market. U.S. Census data illustrates the growth. From 1970 to 1980 to 1990, Maui County's population doubled from 46,576 people to 70,847 to 100,504 while the number of housing units - which does not include hotel rooms - tripled from 13,922 units to 33,033 to 42,160. The 28,200 new housing units in Maui County's inventory included homes for taxpaying residents but many more were condominium units built and sold as investments and vacation rentals.
The massive increase in housing units along with commercial and resort properties boosted county income from real property taxes, financing Maui County's discounted tax rates on homeowners - the voting taxpayer - while squeezing most other property owners, especially those who aren't voting residents.
With homeowner taxpayers buying into the policies, the charter changes approved in 1976 allowed county government to bloom. The provision for a managing director alone added roughly $500,000 in new costs in the executive branch, with slower but inevitable growth in costs in the legislative branch.
In 1975, the County Council had a staff of two. With an Office of Council Services approved by voters, council members initially appointed an administrator and an administrative assistant - naming former council members to each position - to oversee the executive secretary and typist who had served the council for the previous 10 years.
Over the next several years, the council added legislative analysts within the Office of Council Services and aides for each council member.
While both the executive and legislative branches of Maui County's government were expanding, most voting taxpayers barely noticed the spending surges. Some costs reflected new services, such as the Department of Transportation. Some costs resulted from federal and state mandates, such as higher standards for dealing with wastewater and solid wastes.
Some costs occurred because they could, such as staffing for individual council members, now numbering from two to four per member.
Undoubtedly, increased wealth - as property values escalated through the years - helped to allay qualms over the spending displayed in county budgets. In fiscal 1977, the county budgeted $29 million. In 1979, the budget topped $40 million. Growth persisted into the fiscal 2012 budget of $579 million. With the latest charter proposals, cost escalation will continue, assuming voters approve provisions for a county auditor whose purpose will be to assure voters that spending is under control.
* Edwin Tanji is a former city editor of The Maui News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. "Haku Mo'olelo," "writing stories," is about stories that are being written or have been written. It appears every Friday.