Under a cost-cutting plan initiated by Mayor Kirk Caldwell, city gymnasiums and pools will modify their hours, trees will go without a trim and tiki torches in Waikiki may eventually go dark.
KITV4 has obtained details on how the Department of Parks and Recreation plans to administer budget restrictions of $1.5 million, as the city tries to stay ahead of a projected deficit totaling $26 million in the current fiscal year.
“We'll have to be cutting back on our maintenance contracts that we have throughout the island,” said Parks and Recreation Director Toni Robinson. “So, some of our small areas like beach right of ways (and) small parks that we use independent maintenance contracts for, we're going to be cutting those out.”
Robinson says her department has delayed the hiring of a position responsible for the monitoring of training records and labor relations, and will reduce the use of part-time workers by 25 percent. Those two measures alone are expected to save the city $481,000. However, the reduction of part-time staff means some gymnasiums and pools will have to modify their hours of operation, while the number of fields and courts lit at night may be scaled back.
“We may have to close some gyms and swimming pools that we would normally have opened for free play in the evenings or weekends,” explained Robinson. “We may have to close them one night a week, or one Saturday or Sunday a week. We hope to do it in such a way that in a geographical area there will be at least other swimming pools that will be available to use, or other gyms that will be open for free play.”
Modifying the hours that park facilities are open is a grave concern for Central Oahu Councilman Ron Menor, vice chair of the Committee on Parks and Customer Services. Menor is worried children may be left to their own devices if they don’t have a place to shoot hoops or go for a swim. Robinson said the number of hours that fields and courts are lit at night may also be scaled back.
“I intend to express my concerns to the mayor and ask to him to reconsider his position and to restore funding levels to our parks department to the benefit of the residents of our island,” Menor told KITV4. “I think he should give serious consideration to reallocating funds in other areas of the budget to maintain current levels of funding in the parks department.”
Menor says other city departments may realize savings during the fiscal year that could be passed onto Parks and Recreation. However, all but one city department is engaged in the mayor’s cost-cutting plan, which means there may not be any savings to be had.
Meanwhile, the popular Waikiki Torch Lighting Ceremony at Kuhio Beach may also be impacted by budget restrictions. The ceremony takes place at dusk every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday with the help of hula halaus and other native Hawaiian performers. Robinson says the city may eliminate propane for the 54 torches that surround the area next to a hula mound, but refused to elaborate, saying the mayor had not made a final decision.
Rick Egged, president of the Waikiki Improvement Association, says it costs $200,000 per year to fund the torch lighting ceremony. He says the Hawaii Tourism Authority provides $150,000, the Hyatt Regency Waikiki another $20,000 and the city the remaining $30,000. However, Egged is not aware of the additional costs incurred by the city for the cost of propane.
“We'd hate to see this very valuable cultural presentation that is available for our visitors to go away at a time when we've increased the prices to a trip to Hawaii,” said Egged. “We want to be able to maintain the quality of that trip.”
City spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke says city officials have scheduled a meeting with the Waikiki Improvement Association Sept. 13 to discuss the future of the torch lighting ceremony and other cost-cutting proposals.
“The torch lighting cut is just one idea being floated to meet the budget requirements, and is by no means a final decision,” Broder Van Dyke said in an email to KITV4.