By NANCY COOK LAUER
A proposed $16.8 million bond authorization to build a South Kona police station got bogged down in legal questions when two Hilo council members offered $13.6 million in amendments as the County Council worked late into the evening Wednesday.
South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford said the police station is needed because there isn’t room for a police force sufficient for the rapidly growing population.
She said West Hawaii legislators have committed to seeking state money to help, but there is no guarantee.
“I think it’s time Kona gets its needs met, compared to wants in other districts,” Ford said.
Other council members asked the two Hilo councilmen offering the amendments to withdraw them to allow for a clean bill, and then bring them forward separately on their own merits. Council Chairman Dominic Yagong suggested some of the money from the previous $56 million bond issue could be redirected to those other capital improvement projects.
The amendments from Hilo Councilmen Donald Ikeda, ranging from repairs and maintenance of other police stations around the island to roads and parks repair projects, passed 5-4, with Ford, Yagong, Ka‘u Councilwoman Brittany Smart and Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann voting no.
The council trimmed Onishi’s $1 million funding request for a golf cart shed at the Hilo Municipal Golf Course. But it didn’t take a final vote by presstime Wednesday, instead seeking legal advice on whether maintenance projects can be funded by the bond.
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.
“The land already belongs to us,” Ford said. “We need to get more services in West Hawaii.”
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.
“Just because we pass this, doesn’t mean (the mayor) is going to float the bond,” said Hilo Councilman Donald Ikeda. “This just gives him more tools in his toolbox.”
Ikeda said his proposed projects are shovel-ready, while the South Kona police station is not.
The county currently has a sound credit rating, with Fitch Ratings agency reaffirming its AA- rating in June. Overall debt for the county is $276.7 million, or about $1,885 for every man, woman and child on the island.
The county anticipates borrowing $31 million for federally mandated police radio improvements, $28 million for highway and street improvements and $6 million for recreational facilities improvements this fall, according to the Fitch report.
South Kona coffee farmer Maria de Silva was among a half dozen testifiers supporting the bond issue for a police station. Several pointed to the recent spate of burglaries in West Hawaii as a reason for a greater police presence.
“All the citizens of Hawaii County have the right to county police officers in adequate numbers to protect themselves and their property, and frankly, I don’t believe we have that in South Kona,” de Silva said.
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.