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Council Gives Money to Food Bank – Twice

Posted March 9, 2012, 07:14 PM HST Updated March 9, 2012, 07:38 PM HST
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It took nearly three months, a tiff, and four separate pieces of legislation – including the first-ever use of an emergency ordinance to appropriate money, but the Hawaii County Council on Friday finally gave a boost to the Food Bank.

Make that two boosts. And another may be yet to come.

Council members voted initially to give $200,000 to The Food Basket, Inc. to buy food. The Food Basket operates the Big Island’s Food Bank.

The source of the money was the county’s Disaster and Emergency Fund.

Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffman, who introduced the bill, acknowledged that the Food Bank itself is not in a dire situation.

“That isn’t what the emergency is about,” he said. “The emergency is about the number of people using the facilities island-wide.

“It is a hunger emergency,” Hoffman said.

The legislation Hoffman employed was an emergency ordinance, which a county attorney said can only be used when there is a danger to life, health or property.

Before the vote was taken, Hilo Councilman J Yoshimoto questioned Nani Lee, executive director of The Food Bank, in an effort to “lay the foundation” for the emergency status.

Lee told Yoshimoto that the Food Bank typically gives out about 100,000 pounds of food a month and would have roughly a four-day supply of food if a crisis were to hit the island. She said this time of the year her organization is usually low on food, although she expected the situation to improve next month.

Soon after that vote, council members voted again to approve a resolution introduced by council Chairman Dominic Yagong of Hamakua giving the Food Bank another $75,000 taken from the budget of the county’s auditor.

Auditor Colleen Schrandt told the council that her office didn’t need the funds.

Dennis Fresh Onishi

County Councilman Dennis "Fresh" Onishi discusses his bill that would have given the Food Bank additional money. Photo by Dave Smith.

But council members balked when they took up a third measure introduced by Hilo Councilman Dennis “Fresh” Onishi that would give the Food Bank another $75,000, this time from the council’s own budget, saying they weren’t sure that it could spare the money.

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Yagong said with four months left in the fiscal year, he was concerned about the council running out of operating funds.

“Having $275,000 going to the Food Basket is a good thing,” he said, adding it would be “kinda crazy” if the council’s budget comes up short.

Yagong then asked Lee if it would all right if the council waited until May to see if the money was still available then.

Roland Higashi, a retired Hilo businessman who is on the Food Bank’s board of directors, said if the measure remained alive they would have no objections.

The council then voted unanimously to postpone further action on the bill until its May 15 meeting.

The whole matter started in December when the council passed a resolution asking the administration of Mayor Billy Kenoi to appropriate $500,000 to the Food Bank. Administration officials responded by saying that the county’s budget was already tight, and such a large sum couldn’t be given out without seeking competitive bids.

That led to an accusation from Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford that the mayor wasn’t interested in feeding the people of the Big Island, which Kenoi labelled “political grandstanding.”

After that Hoffman introduced a bill taking $200,000 from the county’s emergency fund, but that didn’t past muster with county attorneys until Hoffman introduced a similar bill, this time as an emergency ordinance.

However, in the meantime, Ford had taken Hoffman’s earlier bill and amended it by increasing the amount to $500,000.

Because they had already approved appropriations totaling $275,000, council members then voted to put Ford’s amended bill to rest.

Lee told council members she was grateful for their help.

 

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