By NANCY COOK LAUER
A proposed $16.8 million bond issue for a South Kona police station has ballooned to $31.4 million, thanks to amendments adding other projects offered by two Hilo council members originally opposed to the bond authorization.
The County Council will consider the bond authorization, Bill 307, proposed by South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford, when it meets Wednesday in Hilo council chambers. The original bill, without the costly additions, passed 5-3 in committee last month, with Hilo Councilmen Donald Ikeda, Dennis Onishi and J Yoshimoto voting no.
Ford, a Neighborhood Watch coordinator, said community groups have been pushing for a police station in South Kona for more than a decade. South Kona is the only council district without a 24/7 police station, relying instead on a substation staffed by two officers per shift. It’s recently been temporarily increased to three in light of a wave of burglaries in the region, but it’s not open 24/7.
Ford noted the district has the same number of officers it had 35 years ago, despite marked population growth.
“When it comes to public safety, this comes first,” Ford said. “A police station for the only district that doesn’t have it … it’s just unconscionable that we’ve gone this far.”
The proposed station, a two-story, 21,592-square-foot facility featuring four separate holding cells and a 10-lane firing range, will be constructed on 5 acres mauka of Mamalahoa Highway and the Hawaii Fire Department’s Captain Cook station, according to the project’s environmental assessment released in October 2011. Existing barracks at the Captain Cook police substation will be used. Some $1.2 million in design work and schematics are complete.
But the Police Department hasn’t put the new station high on its priority list, saying federal mandates for a new radio system and Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades have to take precedence with its limited funding. Assistant Police Chief Marshall Kanehailua said earlier this year, “If the County Council or administration makes it a priority to build the station then we welcome it.”
Ford said she was surprised by the amendments coming from the opposing council members. She noted that most of the requests from Ikeda and Onishi were for routine maintenance that should be coming from the county’s operations budget. Others, like $1 million for a new golf cart shed at Hilo Municipal Golf Course, were “wants,” not “needs,” she said.
“They have used it to ask for feel-good stuff over what is really meaningful,” Ford said. “If these two amendments pass, it could kill my bill.”
Onishi said he’d reconsidered his opposition, and decided if the bill is going to pass, he’d add other projects that are needed, including $1 million for a sewer system outfall, which is corroding and in danger of leaking sewage into the ocean. Other projects in his $9.5 million list are Hilo road projects and golf course improvements.
“After reconsidering, I thought I’d approve the bond and if it’s going to pass, add some things for the community,” Onishi said.
Both Onishi and Ikeda pointed out that the council authorizes bond issues, but it’s up to the administration to decide if bonds should be floated and the money spent.
Ikeda said he asked the various departments what they needed before compiling his list of $5.1 million worth of projects. He said the Police Department isn’t ready for a new police station because there aren’t enough officers to staff it.
“It’s Ms. Ford’s priority list, not the Police Department’s priority list,” Ikeda said.