Maui County's finance director Wednesday passionately defended his request for six new Division of Motor Vehicle and Licensing positions, noting his current workers are burdened with new duties and that they need more help to service the public adequately.
"I never asked for an expansion (of duties)," Finance Director Danny Agsalog told members of the Maui County Council's Budget and Finance Committee in his plea for more workers. "I don't think it's fair for my people in the service center (in the Maui Mall)."
Among the extra duties recently added was the processing of state identification cards, a task that used to be handled at state offices.
"This time, I need you to help me to service the public," he told council members.
Agsalog asked council committee members to allow for the new staff positions for his satellite DMVL offices in Kihei, Pukalani, Hana, Lahaina, Lanai and Molokai and to return more funds to his department's budget in line with the mayor's proposal as compared to the cuts made in council Committee Chairman Mike White's plan.
White's proposal trimmed Mayor Alan Arakawa's budget plan by $23 million to $551 million - which is $1 million more than the current fiscal year budget. The committee chairman cut new expansion positions and trimmed funding for programs showing leftover savings.
He also kept flat funding for nonprofit organizations and called for keeping current property tax levels. White said he would be open to tax rate increases if members wanted to put back funding for staff or programs.
Another tack offered by White was to fill new staff positions by seeking vacant positions throughout county government. Some department heads said that they weren't sure how that would work and cited potential problems with unions and personnel procedures and laws.
Agsalog and other county department heads answered questions from council members and made their last pitches. Council members this week are working on their own version of the county budget for next fiscal year, which takes effect July 1.
Like Agsalog, Fire Chief Jeff Murray defended the need for more than a half-dozen new positions that have been axed in White's proposal.
"Our personnel is overwhelmed," Murray said. "They are not functioning at the highest capacity they can, but with these positions they could."
All of the new positions would be involved in the transition of the county Ocean Safety Division from the Parks and Recreation Department to the Fire and Public Safety Department - as mandated by the county's voters in the November election - said the fire chief. The new positions would include an internal affairs officer, office operations assistant and secretary, who will interact with a yet-to-be-hired point person overseeing the transition.
During a recess, Council Member Don Couch told The Maui News that he understood why new positions were removed in White's budget. He said every time the county adds a new position there is a huge increase in the county's long-term responsibility, noting that retirement benefits including medical insurance will have to be paid.
Still, the councilor from the South Maui residency seat said that he was supportive of filling new positions with current vacant ones if possible, especially for the satellite DMVL offices.
"I certainly know that in Kihei, the wait time is well over an hour each time," said Couch. "All the other places, it's close to an hour (wait)."
"That's a lot of time out of peoples' work schedules or lives. . . . It might be worth it for the increases (of personnel) there," Couch said.
During the meeting, Agsalog made a pitch to the committee to restore an $80,000 cut to his professional services budget in White's plan. He said that while on the books it shows that the money has not been spent, some of the money has been consumed already on training; the county just has not received the bill yet.
Another portion of the funds are already earmarked for training programs that will build on earlier training skills, he added.
Agsalog recognized that he wasn't spending all the money his department has been allocated in the current budget, but argued that it is fiscally healthy to keep some carryover savings.
"We can get good (bond) ratings if we have money there," he told council members, adding that the extra funds could help the county in emergency situations.
The committee today is expected to continue its review of the budget, beginning at 9 a.m. in Council Chambers. There also will be a committee public hearing tonight, beginning at 6, in the Council Chambers on property tax rates.
The committee has set an internal deadline of Friday and has reserved Saturday if needed to finish its version of the budget. The council has a June 10 deadline to pass a budget or the mayor's budget will take effect.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.