By NANCY COOK LAUER
Stephens Media Hawaii
After learning they had no authority over money being set aside for maintenance of open space, members of the Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission agreed Tuesday to include their concerns in the commission’s annual report to the mayor and the public, rather than try to take official action.
At issue is when the county administration will publicize grants for community participation in the stewardship of property bought with the 2 percent land fund created in the county charter.
A 2012 charter amendment set aside an additional 0.25 percent of property taxes to go into a maintenance account. According to the charter, the county must advertise by Aug. 1 of each year, provided money is available.
There was $218,980 in the account in July, according to financial balance sheets on the commission website. That grew to $475,433 on the Nov. 5 statement.
Two of the commissioners had worked to get the maintenance fund issue on the ballot and voiced their concerns to fellow commissioners.
“These groups have stepped forward and cared for these lands for decades. It’s not a minor issue,” said Commissioner Gail Byrne Baber. “That was the intention (of the charter amendment), to empower local communities.”
County administrators, however, say the money was already committed to paying consultants for archaeological surveys and the like. Once the professional work is done, they said, there will be an opportunity for nonprofit community groups to apply for maintenance grants.
Commissioner Steven Hirakami pressed for more details. He wanted to know what the money is committed for, which parcels are involved and whether professional contracts have already been let.
“It’s easy to say the funds are accounted for,” Hirakami said. “It’s one thing to make a statement, but what percentage of the funds?”
Clayton Honma, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, which is in charge of spending the maintenance fund, told the commission that details weren’t yet available, because not all of the contracts have been made.
He noted that consultant contracts are expensive, but added there should be money for community groups next year. His office has drafted a solicitation and application, he said, but it’s not quite complete.
“I believe we will go out for sure next year and get grants for the public,” Honma said.
The county has so far spent $34,456 from the maintenance account, all for consultants to create a burial treatment plan and boundary stakeout for Kipapa Park.
The land purchase account as of Nov. 5 had a $6.3 million balance. The commission’s purview is soliciting candidates for land purchase, then evaluating and ranking the candidates in an annual report.
Commissioners agreed on a statement for its annual report, a draft finalized Tuesday, expressing the commission’s concern that money hasn’t get gone to community groups for their stewardship of property. The statement was added despite the advice of Deputy Corporation Counsel Bill Brilhante, who said a more appropriate action would be a letter to Mayor Billy Kenoi.
“I’m not sure this is the appropriate vehicle for this,” Brilhante said. “You might get more traction with a letter directly to the mayor.”
The statement added to the annual report reads, “The commission and the public suggest the county expedite a funding process to support community management plans and long-term maintenance plans.”
According to the charter amendment, the money can be used for repair work, conservation and restoration of soil, forests, shorelines, native wildlife, streams and wetlands. Wildfire and fire prevention activities and repair of existing buildings to meet code requirements, replacing signs and installing and repairing fencing and cattle guards are also allowable projects.
Archaeological surveys, buffering of Native Hawaiian historical and cultural sites and biological studies for protection of Native Hawaiian species of plants and animals round out the list.
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at email@example.com.