County Council OKs $61M bond


The Hawaii County Council unanimously approved issuing a nearly $61.5 million bond Wednesday but not before a couple of members tried to squeeze a few extra dollars out of the deal.

The bond will cover 26 projects the county intends to fund to meet infrastructure and recreational needs.

More than $48 million of the borrowed cash will go toward improving parks or establishing new play areas.

Of that, $20 million will be used for a district park in Pahoa. Ground breaking for that project is expected to start sometime this year, said a county Department of Parks and Recreation spokesman.

Funding is also provided for the Kealakehe Regional Park ($500,000) and the first phase of the Waimea District Park ($2.5 million).

Still, there wasn’t enough money to go around for all park projects on council members’ wish lists.

A community park for Hawaiian Paradise Park isn’t included in the bond authorization despite a last-ditch effort by Puna makai Councilman Greggor Ilagan. On Tuesday, the council’s Finance Committee gave its support to adding the project to the capital budget, but that doesn’t guarantee funding.

“I’m not asking for the world on this,” Ilagan said in a pitch to other council members for the $300,000 request. “I’m asking for a small park.”

Ilagan said Tuesday the amount would not cover construction.

Earlier in the meeting, a few Puna residents and Hawaiian Paradise Park Owners Association board members also urged the council to fund the park with the bond.

“Our community has 12,000 people,” said HPPOA President Larry Brennan. “Look at a community like Waimea. It has 10,000 people and look at the infrastructure.”

But with the bond amount already reaching the limit for other council members, Ilagan could not get enough support for his amendment, which also included $40,000 for a swim area feasibility study for Pohoiki.

He made the same attempt at the Dec. 18 council meeting.

“We all agree on the importance of parks,” said North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff.

“The CIP (capital improvement project) list is the proper process.”

Puna mauka Councilman Zendo Kern, while supportive of the HPP park, said he had to stand by his position not to support additions to the bond.

“Our debt and income ratio is getting pushed,” he said. “It’s not huge money but it will continue to get pushed.”

Finance Director Nancy Crawford warned Council pushing the county’s debt too high could hurt its bond rating. That could make it more costly to borrow in the future.

The bond is expected to raise the county’s annual debt service to 13.4 percent of total annual expenditures. The Government Finance Officers Association recommends a ceiling of 15 percent.

The administration told Council it’s a good time to borrow and the county’s fund balance is at its highest level ever at $37.3 million as of June 30.

Ilagan tried to press the issue, arguing his request would have little impact on the county’s debt.

Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi sought to increase funding for a park at Kaipalaoa Landing in Hilo from $40,000 to $100,000. That motion also failed to pass.

The council did previously make additions to the bond at the Finance Committee level.

With no projects initially listed in her district, South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford added three more at a total cost of $494,000. The rest of the council reluctantly backed her request.

Ilagan voted against it, along with Kern and council Chair J Yoshimoto.

The council approved the bond in a 7-0 vote. Ford and Councilwoman Margaret Wille were absent.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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