By Nancy Cook Lauer
Hawaii County residents can expect improvements in roads, parks and garbage management, modernization of civil defense sirens and a commitment to agriculture, according to 2013 priorities listed by Mayor Billy Kenoi and Council Chairman J Yoshimoto.
“We have an exciting, busy year ahead, and we will be working hard to create jobs, protect public safety and improve the quality of life on our island,” Kenoi said. “We’ll be discussing these and other initiatives in greater detail in the months ahead.”
Kenoi especially wants to see progress on roadways such as Highway 130 from Keaau to Pahoa, the Ane Keohokalole Highway from Hina Lani to Kaiminani, the Laaloa Extension, Kaiminani Drive Phase 1, the Mamalahoa Bypass to Napoopoo Junction, the Kapiolani Street Extension to Lanikaula Street and Kilauea Avenue by reconstructing washboard pavement and making other improvements from Ponahawai Street to Pauahi Street.
Improving county parks, dealing with a growing landfill problem and balancing the county budget are Yoshimoto’s top priorities.
Yoshimoto said other council members will have their priorities and will undoubtedly submit legislation to address them. But his three priorities are aimed at addressing community concerns.
“We want to help our community and improving our parks is a way to do that,” Yoshimoto said, adding that “dealing with our solid waste problems will benefit everybody too.”
A critical audit in 2011 found an estimated deferred maintenance backlog of approximately $80 million, although no one has actually taken an inventory. Yet $1.3 million appropriated by the County Council was scheduled to lapse, the audit stated.
The 118-page audit found certain recreational facilities can’t be fully used by the public because of their dilapidated condition, games have had to be stopped because of leaking roofs and facilities or parts of facilities have been closed because of hazardous materials safety concerns. Most of the problems precede Kenoi’s tenure, said Auditor Colleen Schrandt in the report.
Problems range from a rusted and leaking roof and severe termite damage at Yano Hall to asbestos and lead paint at Naalehu Community Center. The auditors also found leaking roofs at the Pahoa Neighborhood Facility and Edith Kanakaole Multipurpose Stadium. Termites were also found at Hawaiian Beaches Park and Hilo Municipal Golf Course.
Auditors recommended the county make a list of all needed repairs and prioritize the most serious threats to the public. There should be a timeline for repairs to be completed and a way to track repairs and outcomes to adequately budget for maintenance and repair projects, they said.
Kenoi is looking toward continuing a commitment to agriculture he began with the transition of 1,739 acres of Hamakua farmland into an agricultural park.
“When we support agriculture, we are generating economic activity, creating jobs and helping to make our county more self-sufficient while we also protect our rural lifestyle,” Kenoi said. “It is a win-win-win for our community.”
Kenoi said he’ll continue efforts expanding the Paauilo slaughterhouse, work with state and federal programs to encourage young farmers and advance marketing of the local cut-flower industry.
Kenoi plans to support the state’s tsunami siren warning system, which will modernize existing sirens and add 36 new sirens, converting the existing radio-activated siren system to a more reliable and redundant satellite- and cellular-based system. Malfunctioning sirens and lack of shoreline coverage have long been a problem in the county.
The county’s garbage problem has also festered for years.
Dating back to the early 1990s, county officials have hesitated in taking major steps to address the problem of what to do with rubbish on an island with limited space for disposal. The default answer, for the better part of 20 years, has been to make steeper the slopes of the Hilo landfill, delaying the inevitable need to close that site.
The county has faced a series of anticipated deadlines for closure of the Hilo landfill, a date that became a moving target when solid waste officials began using a “sliver-fill” technique to pile the sides steeper. In 2009, officials thought the landfill would have to be closed by 2010, a date that was then moved to 2011, and finally to 2013.
With the 2012 council voting not to allow transporting of Hilo garbage to the Puuanahulu landfill, officials are now looking for more permanent alternatives to the unpopular choice of expanding the Hilo landfill. Waste-to-energy technology has been discussed as an alternative, but whatever is chosen must comply with the county’s Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan, Yoshimoto said.
“If the council wants to do something, it has to follow the plan or make changes to it,” Yoshimoto said.
The budget, required by law to be balanced, continues to be a priority, Yoshimoto said. Kenoi earlier this year submitted a $365.3 million budget that was a scant 0.5 percent less than the prior year’s budget and 9.4 percent less than when Kenoi took office in 2008. It was based upon a projected decrease in property taxes of $8.8 million, or 4.2 percent caused by decreased property values.
County officials won’t get their first estimate of the newest property values until mid-February, said Finance Director Nancy Crawford. The estimate allows the mayor to propose his tentative budget, which is often amended after property values are certified in mid-April.
The County Council last raised property taxes in 2010 at Kenoi’s request.
Email Nancy Cook-Lauer at email@example.com