Honolulu Civil Beat is Not Pierre Omidyar’s First Attempt at an Online Venture

Well we can’t say that Pierre Omidyar hasn’t tried something similar to the Honolulu Civil Beat before and it appears that it wasn’t as successful as he may have thought it could be.

I just checked out Bayosphere and it’s pretty bland.

Bayosphere, launched in June last year, has close to 100,000 unique visitors a month, but Gillmor has acknowledged the experiment hasn’t turned out the way he had hoped. Gillmor, a former Mercury News columnist, received funding from the Omidyar Network, an investment group founded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and from tech entrepreneur Mitch Kapor.

I guess in April 2006, Omidyar also helped finance Backfence which also looks pretty barren.

Backfence’s Susan DeFife has said that the startup planned to expand and now we see how they plan to proceed, at least in the San Francisco Bay area. Both Backfence and Bayosphere were funded initially by the Omidyar Network. (Bayosphere raised about $200,000 in total, part of it from Mitch Kapor.)

But like I’ve said… I’ll be patient of this venture… and just wish that I had a billionaire financing my blog.

Koa Tree Tracking Being Implemented on the Big Island

Media Release:

Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods (HLH) is in the process of implementing the first of its kind, RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) Tree Tracking Database so that investors in the HLH Koa reforestation project can track and monitor the progress of their investment in real time.

Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods’ IT (Information Technology) specialists are integrating their proprietary system that includes a GPS / GIS (Global Positioning System / Geographic Information System) plantation-wide mapping system where each Koa tree planted will be equipped with RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification).  The RFID program means that each individual tree is equipped with a computer signature, which will track ownership, growth, maintenance, lumber-yield and pedigree for the tree owner.  The GPS / GIS system will locate each tree by an exact set of geographic coordinates allowing the tree owner to locate their trees on maps and by satellite imagery.

“This high-tech program will give a level of comfort to forestry investors that has never been available before now,” says Jeff Dunster, CEO of Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods.  “It is only a matter of time before Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods investors will be able to go online, by using programs like Google Earth, to look at their specific sustainable lumber investment from space and to pinpoint their specific stand.  We fully expect the rest of the industry to follow suit within the next 10 years,” he added.

The HLH project provides the unique opportunity for individuals and institutional investors alike to invest in Koa trees as a sustainable commodity by purchasing specific units (100 Koa trees per unit).  HLH has made it possible for this investment opportunity to be accessible to a wide range of investors and investment vehicles including trusts, IRAs and 401Ks.  While this is a 25-year project, profits are realized along the way through thinning and harvesting. HLH is currently offering tree lots for the 2010 planting season.

The HLH Plantation is located 34 miles north of Hilo, above historic Umikoa Village on the slopes of Mauna Kea.  The 2700-acre sustainable forestry project will support the growth of 1.3 million rare tropical hardwood trees, primarily Koa, indigenous only to Hawaii.  The planting site was once a magnificent Koa forest and was the personal property of King Kamehameha I. This old growth forest was almost lost to clear-cut harvesting and cattle grazing.  Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods is working to return this site to its former glory.  For more information, visit http://www.hawaiianlegacyhardwoods.com or contact HLH by phone at  (877) 707-TREE (8733) or (808) 595-8847 or via the Internet at info@hawaiianlegacyhardwoods.com.

Kona Blue Water Farms Awarded NMFS Grant to Research Alternative Proteins in Marine Fish Diets

By-Products From Biofuels, Food and Fish Processing Could Improve Sustainability of Kona Kampachi® Diets

Media Release:

Kona Blue Water Farms, Inc. (www.kona-blue.com), the first integrated marine fish hatchery and open ocean mariculture operation in the United States, today announced that the company has been awarded a Saltonstall-Kennedy grant from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for research into alternative protein sources to reduce the reliance on marine proteins in aquaculture feeds.

The project will look at three novel, sustainable sources of protein as a substitute for fishmeal in the diets of Kona Kampachi®, a sashimi-grade, marine finfish grown in waters offshore of Hawaii. The three sources of protein to be studied include: microalgal by-products from biofuels production; a single cell protein made from food processing water; and, a Fish Protein Concentrate filtered from the wastewater of fish processing plants.

For the study, Kona Blue will substitute these various protein sources at different ratios into the Kona Kampachi® diet, and compare growth rates, food conversion ratios and product quality to that of fish fed their standard commercial diet.

“This research addresses the fundamental challenge of developing marine fish diets that are both scalable, and sustainable,” explained Neil Anthony Sims, co-founder for Kona Blue. “The study aligns closely with Kona Blue’s commitment to continually strive to soften our footprint on the seas.”

“By using by-products from other processes, we can re-use resources, rather than deplete them,” said Jennica Lowell, Research Manager for Kona Blue and Principal Investigator for the project. “Not only do we lessen our reliance on Peruvian anchovies as a source of protein for our fish, but we also find value in by-products or effluents from other food processing or fuel systems.”

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program, and a number of other aquaculture standards, use protein conversion efficiency of marine fish as a key metric of sustainability.

“Kona Blue aspires to use sound science to develop innovative solutions to the problems facing the oceans,” said Sims. “It is imperative that we find alternative means of supplying healthful seafood to meet growing global demand. Developing more sustainable marine fish diets would alleviate one of the remaining concerns for scale-up of open ocean mariculture.”

The research work is projected to begin by July this year. Results from the study will be shared with academics, industry, and the environmental and conservation communities through conference presentations and peer-reviewed publications.

Kona Blue Water Farms’ applied research also focuses on areas such as new designs for open ocean net pens, hatchery production of imperiled native Hawaiian fish species, and satellite tracking of ocean current eddies in the lee of the Big Island. These research projects are supported by NOAA, USDA, the National Science Foundation and private industry partners.

From Mayor Kenoi to Hawaii County Council… “The Budget”

From the Mayors Office:

Dear Chairman Yoshimoto and Council Members:

As required by the Hawai‘i County Charter, the amended operating budget proposal for the County of Hawai‘i for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011 is hereby submitted.

OVERVIEW

This balanced budget includes estimated revenues and appropriations of $376,001,627 and includes the operations of eleven of the County’s special funds as well as the General Fund. It is $11,044,576 lower than this year’s budget, and is $27,203,371 or 6.74 percent lower than the budget in effect when I took office.

I present you with this balanced budget proposal during a very difficult time for all of the citizens of this island. The construction, tourism and agricultural sectors all face an extremely challenging economic environment. While we see signs of a potential recovery on the national and local scenes, we must continue to reduce spending, focus on core County services and budget conservatively to provide for stability until our local economy rebounds. This budget accomplishes those objectives.

County government is now entering its second consecutive year of budget cuts and spending reductions, and we must prepare for the challenges that lie ahead. My administration confronted a budget shortfall of $38.1 million in the current fiscal year. We have proposed unprecedented budget cuts, employee furloughs and other painful adjustments in this budget to cope with another budget shortfall of $44.8 million next year. Looking further into the future, preliminary projections of declining revenues and increasing costs suggest we can anticipate yet another budget shortfall of more than $31 million in fiscal year 2011-2012.

It is absolutely clear we must roll back government, reverse its growth and make it more affordable. We have led the way in the Office of Management, where we cut overall spending by 4 percent in my first seven months in office, cut spending by another 29 percent this year, and proposed yet another 9.3 percent spending reduction in the year ahead. We reduced salaries and wages in the Mayor’s office by 17 percent this year when my staff accepted the first furloughs of any County government employees. We will cut spending on salaries in the Mayor’s Office by another 5.9 percent in the year ahead. These changes represent a total savings of $863,392 since we took office.

To further reduce County spending, this revised budget proposal incorporates an additional $1,852,137 in savings achieved through the furloughs of United Public Workers union members who are employed by the County. When combined with the Hawai‘i Government Employees Association furloughs outlined in our previous budget submittal on March 1, we expect to save a total of about $7 million in the coming year through the twice-a-month furloughs of County workers. Imposing furloughs was a difficult step to take, but it allows the County to avoid the layoffs that have affected some state workers. The furlough plan includes elected officials, appointees and excluded managerial employees, and represents a 9.23 percent pay reduction for all affected employees.

These furloughs will touch every County department, and we recognize the furloughs will cause hardship for some employees and their families. We are asking our public employees to share in the kinds of sacrifices that have been imposed on so many in the private sector during these difficult times. At the same time, we ask our public workers to renew their commitment to public service. We owe that to the community we serve.

We have imposed cuts across the entire spectrum of County government. All County departments were instructed to reduce their budgets by 5 percent last fiscal year, and then to cut another 10 percent in the current budget year. Now, for the new budget year that begins July 1, departments were asked to reduce expenditures even more, by up to 20 percent. We also froze step increases in pay for all managerial and appointed employees.

This year we unfunded 55 vacant positions, which was the largest number of positions ever to be unfunded in a single County budget. In our new FY 2010-11 budget, we propose unfunding even more — an additional 70 positions. That’s an unprecedented total of 125 positions unfunded in the first two years of  this administration.

Apart from unfunding vacant positions, we also had 95 fewer “warm bodies” working for the County this spring than at the beginning of my administration because of our firm adherence to hiring restrictions and attrition to shrink the County workforce. Our restrictions in hiring and elimination of vacant funded positions over the past 17 months have allowed us to shrink the number of funded County positions nearly to the fiscal year 2005-2006 level.

Our proposed tax rates would also take us back to fiscal year 2005-2006.  We propose in this budget submittal to return to the property tax rates of fiscal year 2005-2006 for most categories, which will result in the County collecting slightly less in total property tax revenue next year as compared with this year. To protect our homeowners, we are proposing no increase in the homeowner tax rate. We also plan to keep the affordable rental tax rate the same to help maintain the stock of affordable housing for our residents.

We are also extending targeted tax relief and additional resources to the agricultural industries in our community. The hard truth is that if we stand by while our diversified agriculture sector struggles through this recession, we may lose our small farmers forever. We must support agricultural initiatives including the Kapulena agricultural park on 1,739 acres of County-owned land, which will become the largest agricultural park in the state when it is complete. It will help our residents to launch new initiatives in diversified agriculture and foster development of the grass-finished beef industry. The proposed agricultural tax plan will result in a reduction of more than 4 percent in the average per-parcel property tax on agricultural lands, which will benefit our farmers.

At the same time, we must develop and launch a series of initiatives to help restore our local economy to robust good health, and to lay the groundwork for future successes in the County of Hawai‘i. To that end, this budget incorporates financial incentives to encourage the airlines to fill the void left by the suspension of Japan Air Lines’ direct service from Narita to Kona. Airlift is essential to our small businesses, our hotels and our working families, and we intend to pursue restoration of direct flights with all of our partners in the visitor, tour and hotel industries. Our proposed tax plan for hotels and resorts will result in a reduction in the average tax per parcel, providing relief to the largest employers of our working families.

This budget was crafted to preserve public safety and other essential core services today, while positioning the County to navigate the new difficulties we know will confront us tomorrow. We have cut overtime, travel, police cadet scholarships and more.  We have eliminated most equipment purchases. We have also implemented furlough days for HGEA, UPW, exempt and appointed employees, and unfunded many positions. This budget represents a decrease in County spending on activities such as General Government, and increases the share of County resources devoted to core functions such as Public Safety, Highways and Streets, and Health, Education and Welfare.

We have honored our commitment to maintaining nutrition and other services for seniors, and have preserved programs for our children and youth. This budget continues the County’s free, island-wide bus service, and maintains County spending of $1.5 million per year in support of non-profit organizations that deliver social services. This continuing realignment in County spending is gradually shifting County resources to the essential services that are most important to our residents.

REAL PROPERTY TAX

Real property tax assessments have been certified at $25.5 billion. The values are 9.35 percent less, or $2.63 billion, than fiscal year 2009-2010 assessments and 13.51 percent or $3.99 billion less than FY 2008-09 assessments.  As stated in our March 1, 2010 submittal, the County is unable to maintain essential, core services with a $23 million reduction in revenues that would result from maintaining current real property tax rates.

We are proposing a modified version of the fiscal year 2005-2006 real property tax rates that would leave the homeowner and affordable rental tax rates intact. The average per parcel tax collection for agriculture, commercial, and hotel and resort classifications will be reduced to keep our small businesses strong. The proposed rates identified (Attachment 1) would result in real property tax revenue of $215,154,049, slightly below the collections budgeted for the current year.

VACANT POSITIONS

After unfunding 55 positions in the fiscal year 2009-2010 budget, we have continued to review funded vacant positions to determine those that can be safely unfunded or partially funded for the upcoming budget year without adversely impacting County operations and services to the public beyond an acceptable level.  This budget reflects the unfunding of 70 additional positions and partial funding of 43 more positions in fiscal year 2010-2011. Partial funding represents a reduction in the salary budget for a position that may be vacant for a portion of the year. The total value of the unfunded positions, adjusted for furloughs, amounts to $2,770,356.

The review process involved identifying funded vacant positions that were public safety, grant funded, and special revenue fund positions, as well as positions in the legislative branch.  In addition to the importance of retaining funding for public safety purposes, it was recognized that most vacant positions in the Police and Fire departments are offset by new recruits, which are not separately funded.  Positions that are funded by grants or special revenue funds do not impact the general fund budget.  The remaining funded vacant positions were carefully reviewed individually.

Normally, funds not expended because a position is temporarily vacant are used to cover the cost of vacation payouts for retirees and for the temporary assignment or overtime pay that may result from covering the vacant position until it can be filled.  The savings resulting from unfunding additional general fund positions after the March 1, 2010 budget submittal have been placed in the general fund provision for cash-in-lieu of vacation account.

OPERATIONAL CHANGES

Organizational changes to be implemented July 1, 2010, will place the Automotive division under the Mass Transit Agency. This will consolidate similar activities in one department, particularly the vehicle repair activities, allowing for increased efficiency in processing equipment for repairs and fuel and vehicle usage countywide. No new positions have been added as a result of this re-organization, although one previously unfunded position will be budgeted for the coming year.

The amended budget also restores funding for the Hawai`i County Band and West Hawai`i band for fiscal year 2010-2011. Our community demonstrated its strong support for this venerable institution, and we offer the band an opportunity to make the transition from a solely County-funded program to an institution that will benefit both from public and private support in the years ahead. To that end, this administration will pursue an initiative to convert the band to private non-profit status so that it may harness its widespread community support in a way that also eases the burden on County taxpayers.

The County recognizes the importance of maintaining our island as a safe, clean, beautiful place to live and to visit. In response to requests from the public, this budget also provides funding to increase the hours of our solid waste transfer stations so that each station will be open for a minimum of three days per week for 12 hours per day. My administration is focused on a more comprehensive response to solid waste disposal and illegal dumping issues that includes education, tough anti-littering legislation and increased enforcement of litter laws.

FUND BALANCE

The fund balance submitted with this budget is estimated at $14,313,937.  Fund balance carry-forward for any given year is not known until all adjustments are posted and funds are closed several months after the fiscal year ends.  Projection of upcoming receipts and expenditures is very difficult and actual transactions can vary by large amounts.  This can be difficult in the best of years, but when all expenses have already been cut extensively there are no further equipment purchases to defer, no further travel or training to postpone, no further projects to cancel.  The impact of entering a new budget cycle with an over-estimated fund balance carry-forward would be a disruption of planned operations.  That is why we believe this estimate cannot be increased.

DETAILS

In arriving at this amended budget, the Administration identified several areas where expenditures could be further reduced, or where increases were appropriate. Specific changes are identified below.

Significant Changes to March 1, 2010 Revenue Estimates

  • Fund Balance Carryover – Carryover projections have increased by $1,655,937, which represents an increase in current year expenditure savings as a result of restrictions on filling vacant positions, reducing travel and virtually eliminating equipment purchases.

Significant Changes to March 1, 2010 Expenditure Estimates

General Fund

  • Salary & Wages – Budgets in various departments were reduced by a total of $737,392 due to the implementation of furlough days for UPW employees.
  • Research & Development – Budgets for agriculture and tourism development have been increased by $300,000 each to provide additional funding for stimulating these important local resources and economic engines.
  • Public Works – The department’s budget decrease includes $4,469,049 as a result of transferring the Automotive division to the Transportation agency.
  • Mass Transit – The agency budget increase includes $4,461,126 as a result of the transfer of the Automotive division from Public Works.
  • Transfer to Solid Waste — The subsidy to the solid waste fund has been increased by a net amount of $100,559 and will provide funding for extended hours at transfer stations island-wide. This subsidy is $5,694,189 lower than the subsidy provided in the current fiscal year.
  • Employee Benefits – A net increase of $1,646,000 reflects a projected 26% increase in premiums for active employee health insurance from the Employer Union Trust Fund, which is partially offset by reductions in retirement benefits and FICA costs.
  • Vacant Positions – We originally proposed in March to unfund 62 vacant positions, excluding the bands. This amended budget proposal includes a total of 70 positions that have been unfunded. All remaining funded positions are considered to be essential to County operations, or they have an existing incumbent temporarily assigned to a worker compensation position or in some other temporary appointment.

Position Changes from March 1, 2010 Budget Proposal

There have been no positions added or deleted in this amended budget proposal.

CONCLUSION

The County of Hawai‘i continues to face great economic challenges, and no one can say with any certainty when we will enjoy a full recovery from this national and global recession. We are all witness to the effects of the weak economy around us, but we also recognize the assets and advantages that we are blessed with. We know that our community is resilient and resourceful, and we are committed to helping one another through this difficult time.

This budget represents difficult choices, cautious optimism, and realistic expectations for a recovery we know will come. We know our island economy will rebound, but we must conserve our resources and carefully target our economic development initiatives to benefit those sectors where our assistance will yield the greatest results.

At the same time, we must increase government efficiency to meet the growing demand for public safety, transportation services, and programs for seniors and children. We need to stretch our resources to protect the most vulnerable among us while preparing our community for a better, more prosperous future.

With your help, we can do all of this and still reduce spending to live within our means. This budget proposal would spend less next year than we are budgeted to spend this year, but it will provide public services at current levels.  Employees and vendors will continue to be paid on a timely basis. We will continue to meet all of our financial obligations, maintain our strong financial ratings and increase our borrowing power, providing the County with a strong foundation to confront the challenges we  collectively face.

My staff and I welcome the opportunity to discuss this budget in further detail with you and to answer any concerns that you may have.  Thank you for you consideration.

Aloha,

William P. Kenoi

MAYOR

Attachment 1 – County of Hawaii Proposed Tax Rates FY 2010-2011

Property

Classes

Proposed Rates Rates Inc (Dec) Revenue

From Class

Per Parcel

Percent       Inc (Dec)

Buildings Land Buildings Land
Affordable Rental 5.55 5.55 0.00 0.00 $        921,919 -7.18%
Residential 9.10 9.10 2.00 1.00 62,136,273 29.19%
Apartment 9.85 9.85 1.75 1.75 37,483,908 -10.70%
Commercial 9.10 9.10 0.10 0.10 14,759,306 -0.82%
Industrial 9.10 9.10 0.10 0.10 9,550,062 0.89%
Agriculture 8.35 8.35 2.00 0.00 42,528,712 -4.43%
Conservation 9.85 9.85 1.30 1.30 3,844,083 15.53%
Hotel & Resort 9.85 9.85 0.85 0.85 14,885,835 -15.78%
Homeowners 5.55 5.55 0.00 0.00 28,043,951 -1.72%
Subtotal $ 214,154,049 -0.20%
Estimated Minimum Tax Adjustment $     1,000,000
Total $ 215,154,049
Gain/(Loss): ($45,951)

Avocados Needed for Crop Industry Research and Preservation

Media Release:

Are you growing a good avocado? Inquiring minds want to know.

The University of Hawai‘i College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resource (UH CTAHR), the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Association (HTFG) and the Kona Kohala Chefs Association are asking farmers and backyard growers to submit avocado samples for possible crop industry research and preservation. The statewide collection period is through December 31.

“We’re looking for a few great avocados from seedlings and unknown grafted trees to be evaluated by horticulturists and chefs,’” explains Ken Love, HTFG executive director. “Chosen fruit will be propagated and planted at the UH experiment station in Kainaliu and protected so future generations will have access to it.”

Criteria for the avocado evaluation include good seed-to-meat ratio, high oil content (buttery), smooth taste with no strings, appearance of skin and edible portion, plus overall flavor. Growers should consider if suggested avocado “is worth growing more of and marketing commercially.”

Avocados can be submitted for evaluation by drop off or mailed to the UH Extension Office in Kainaliu. Mail two or three “almost ripe” fruit samples to Marc Meisner, UH Extension Office, 7-7381 Mamalahoa Hwy., Kealakekua, HI 96750.

Entries should include the approximate height and age of tree, if fruit is from a grafted tree or seedling, any indicators used to harvest the fruit, farm elevation and any farm history. “Knowing any previous farm owners may help determine the history of the fruit,” detailed Love.

In addition, ACF Kona Kohala Chefs Assoc. members will do a culinary evaluation of many unusual avocado varieties on June 2. Any grower wishing to have fruit tested by chefs should get “perfectly ripe fruit” to the Kainaliu extension office or to Ken Love by June 1.

For more info, contact Dr. Ted Radovich on Oahu at 808-956-7909 or theodore@hawaii.edu; Ken Love in Kona at 808-323-2417 or kenlove@kona.net or Marc Meisner in Kona at 808-322-4896. The 20th annual Hawaii International Tropical Fruit Conference is September 24-26 at the Aston Aloha Beach Resort on Kauai.

Wordless Wednesday – Oxymoron?

There is an oxymoron somewhere in this picture