Hawaii County may still get to manage Mauna Kea State Recreation Area after the idea failed to pass the state Legislature last year.
Mayor Billy Kenoi said the county and state Department of Land and Natural Resources are in talks over transferring or leasing the 20.5-acre park off Saddle Road to the county. On March 28, the Board of Land and Natural Resources will consider authorizing DLNR staff to sign a memorandum of agreement with the county, he said.
“If everything goes OK … hopefully we can reach an MOA with the state and allow us to go in and manage, maintain and improve Mauna Kea state park,” Kenoi said.
The move could cost the county over $200,000 a year in operation costs and may include the hiring of an additional staff person, Kenoi said. Another $300,000 in one-time costs would also be sought for purchase of vehicles and other expenses, and a yet-to-be-determined amount for capital improvements will also be needed, he said.
Kenoi said transfer of the park could come as early as July 1 and would not require County Council approval, but funding requests to serve the park would need its support.
“We’re happy to answer any questions they (council members) may have,” he said.
Kenoi said he thinks the county can afford the additional costs.
His budget proposal for the next fiscal year is $412.6 million, 4.6 percent higher than the current budget. It does not include tax increases.
Placing the county in control of the park has been a priority for the mayor who thinks the county is better situated to manage and improve its facilities. With improvements being completed to Saddle Road, the park has become more important, he said.
“Both the state and county have had our challenges,” Kenoi said, when asked why the park shouldn’t remain the state’s responsibility. “We just got to work together.”
The mayor last year had also sought to place Hapuna Beach Park under the county’s management.
Bills that would have required DLNR to negotiate with the county over both parks were defeated in 2013. The Senate instead passed a resolution requesting DLNR work with the county on both issues.
Sens. Malama Solomon and Gil Kahele both sponsored another bill this year that would have directed DLNR to negotiate with the county over Mauna Kea state park. Three Senate committees deferred the bill Feb. 3 after DLNR Chair William Aila told lawmakers negotiations were already underway.
Some testifiers with the previous bills questioned whether the county should, or could afford, to take on other parks. New parks for Pahoa, Waimea, Kealakehe and Kailua-Kona are in the planning stages.
“The county government of Hawaii adopting the responsibility of maintaining this park with no increase in personnel or finances of the park would be irresponsible,” former Mayor Harry Kim wrote last year.
Aila could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Solomon, D-North Hawaii, and Kahele, D-Hilo, also said they think the county would be able to better manage the park.
“Small parks like Mauna Kea state park get pushed to the wayside,” Solomon said.
Solomon said she would also like to see the county manage Hapuna Beach Park. Both parks are in her district.
Kenoi said transferring Hapuna Beach Park could be on the table in the future, but will not be part of the proposal the board will consider.
Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune- herald.com.