On the Agenda for Tomorrow’s Hawaii County Council Meeting

Here are the things on the agenda for tomorrow’s Hawaii County Council meeting:

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Council Index ~ Wednesday, March 19, 2014 ~ Kona Council Chambers:

9:00 a.m          PETITIONS, CERTIFICATES OF MERIT, AND EXPRESSIONS OF CONDOLENCE

  • Boy Scouts of America – Eagle Scout:          Certificates of Merit for Andrew Creitz and James Shalen, Dru Kanuha
  • Kohala by the Sea Firewise Community:          Certificate of Merit for ten years of dedication, etc., M. Wille

9:30 a.m.         STATEMENTS FROM THE PUBLIC ON AGENDA ITEMS

COMMUNICATIONS

  1. Comm. 675:                      NOMINATES WILLIAM MEYERS TO PONC COMMISSION, Mayor Kenoi
  2. Comm. 676:                      NOMINATES MS. CAROL R. IGNACIO TO THE FIRE COMMISSION, Mayor Kenoi
  3. Comm. 705:                      NOMINATES JOHN DILL TO ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT COMMISSION, Mayor Kenoi

ORDER OF RESOLUTIONS

  • Res. 243-13:          FORD CRF, Dist. 6, $180 to Mass Transit for Bus Passes for Domestic Abuse Shelter       C548.1:                       Transmits amendment to Reso to increase amount of appropriation from B. Ford.
  • Res. 317-14:          EOFF CRF, Dist. 8, $1,000 to Liquor Control for Creating Readers in Babies – Twinkling Stars
  • Res. 319-14:          ILAGAN CRF, Dist. 4, $1,500 to Prosecutors for Puna JPO Program for Appreciation Day
  • Res. 320-14:          ONISHI CRF, Dist. 3, $3,000 to Fire Dept. for tracking bracelets and remote tracking devices
  • Res. 321-14:          KANUHA CRF, Dist. 7, $5,000 to Parks and Rec for Kailua Playground
  • Res. 322-14:          KANUHA CRF, Dist. 7, $2,000 to Parks and Rec for Table Tennis Tables
  • Res. 323-14:          KERN CRF, Dist. 5, $2,000 to Parks and Rec for Tobacco Free Signs in Puna
  • Res. 324-14:          YOSHIMOTO CRF, Dist. 2, $10K to Parks and Rec for annual fireworks display in Hilo Bay
  • Res. 325-14:          ILAGAN CRF, Dist. 4, $5,000 to Public Works for 20 tons aggregate material
  • Res. 326-14:          POINDEXTER CRF, Dist. 1, $7,000 to Parks and Rec for Honoka’a Western Week
  • Res. 327-14:          KERN CRF, Dist. 5, $3,226 to Police Dept. for Stealth Stat Self Radar to enforce speed limits
  • Res. 328-14:          EOFF CRF, Dist. 8, $3,000 to Civil Defense for C.E.R.T. and Neighborhood Watch
  • Res. 331-14:          AUTHORIZES MAYOR Re: Agreement to provide Work Comp. Services for P&R and Police
  • Res. 333-14:          ONISHI CRF, Dist. 3, $700 to Prosecutor for Ohana Fun Day for supplies

BILLS FOR ORDINANCES (FIRST READING)

  • Bill 216:                Re: OPERATING BUDGET, Approp. $5K for aggregate material for repair of Puna unpaved roads

ORDER OF THE DAY (SECOND OR FINAL READING)

  • Bill 196:                Re: PUBLIC IMPROVEMENTS, Establishes appropriations of $2,300,121 for various specific projects
  • Bill 197:                Re: OPERATING BUDGET, Approp. $274,703 for Capital Projects Fund for Public Works
  • Bill 198:                Re: PUBLIC IMPROVEMENTS, Adds $20 Million for Hokulia/Mamalahoa Bypass, etc.

REPORTS

  • Financial Report:   Monthly Budget Status Report for the Month Ended October 31, 2013, from the Department of Finance.

REFERRALS FOR EXECUTIVE SESSION

  • Res. 331-14:          AUTHORIZES MAYOR Re: Agreement to provide Work Comp. Services for P&R and Police Dept.

Today at the Hawaii County Council Meeting – Re: VOLCANO-PĀHOA Emergency Road Project

Here is what was scheduled to be discussed at today’s Hawaii County Council meeting (note agenda item 4):

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Committee Index ~ March 18, 2014 ~ Kona Council Chambers

9:00 a.m.         GOVERNMENTAL RELATIONS AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE

1.   Comm. 10.15:       HSAC EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEETING MINUTES

2.   Comm. 10.16:       HSAC SPECIAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEETING MINUTES

9:45 a.m.         AGRICULTURE, WATER and ENERGY SUSTAINABILITY COMMITTEE

3.   Comm. 721:          PRESENTATION BY PETER YOUNG, RE: KEAUHOU AQUIFER SYSTEM

Comm. 721.1: Submit power point presentation materials by Peter Young, from Dru Kanuha

12:45 p.m.       PUBLIC SAFETY and MASS TRANSIT COMMITTEE

4.   Comm. 697:          Discussion and Formation of AD HOC Re: VOLCANO-PĀHOA Emergency Road Project

1:15 p.m.         PLANNING COMMITTEE

5.   Comm. 729:          NOMINATION OF MR. JAY UYEDA TO THE WATER BOARD

6.   Comm. 730:          NOMINATION OF COLLIN KAHOLO TO THE LEEWARD PLANNING COMMISSION

7.   Bill 211:                Re: SLU, AG TO URBAN AT KEONEPOKO, PUNA, Applicant:  Jerry Souza, 1 acre

Bill 212:          REZONE, A-1a to CV-20, Applicant: Jerry Souza, 1 acre

8.   Bill 213:                REZONE, Time Ext., RS-10 to MCX-20 at Waiakea, Applicant: Waterfall Ent., 21,000 sf

9.   Bill 214:                REZONE, RM 2.5 to RM-1.5, at Waiakea, S. Hilo, Applicant: Vincent Tai, 3.2 acres

3:00 p.m.         PUBLIC WORKS and PARKS AND RECREATION COMMITTEE

10.  Bill 200:               RELATING TO 20 MPH Speed Limit, adds Haunani Road, Puna

11.  Bill 201:               RELATING TO SPEED LIMITS, amends provision re portion of Haunani Road, Puna

12.  Bill 202:               RELATING TO MOVING VEHICLES, adds portion of Ka’alaiki Road, Ka’u

13.  Bill 203:               RELATING TO NO PARKING AT ANYTIME, adds portion of West Kawili, S. Hilo

14.  Bill 204:               RELATING TO BUS STOPS AND PUBLIC ROAD TAXI STANDS, portions of Banyan Drive

15.  Bill 205:               RELATING TO PARKING, revises re prohibited parking along Banyan Drive

16.  Bill 206:               RELATING TO PARKING, revises re prohibited parking during certain hours on Banyan Drive 17.  17.  Bill 207:                      RELATING TO FREIGHT LOADING ZONES, revises freight zone locations on Banyan Drive 18.  18.  Bill 217:             RE: PARKS & REC FACILITY, names Honoka‘a stadium, “Rose Andrade Correia Stadium”

3:45 p.m.         FINANCE COMMITTEE

19.  Comm. 3.31:        REPORT OF CHANGE ORDERS AUTHORIZED:  JANUARY 16 – 31, 2014

20.  Comm. 3.32:        REPORT OF CHANGE ORDERS AUTHORIZED:  FEBRUARY 1 – 15, 2014

21.  Comm. 7.24:        REPORT OF FUND TRANSFERS AUTHORIZED:  JANUARY 16 – 31, 2014

22.  Comm. 7.25:        REPORT OF FUND TRANSFERS AUTHORIZED:  FEBRUARY 1 – 15, 2014

23.  Comm. 117.1:      FAIR SHARE ANNUAL REPORT AS OF JUNE 30, 2013           From Duane Kanuha

24.  Comm. 272.3:      Submits Report from TIH Re: Procedures for Clerk and Elections Re: 2012 Primary and Elections

Comm. 272.4: Submits Summary of Findings by TIH from Lane Shibata

25.  Comm. 704:         2013 ANNUAL REPORT OF PONC COMMISSION, Mayor Kenoi

26.  Res. 308-14:         AUTHORIZES PAYMENT for PERSONAL COMPUTERS AND LAPTOPS FOR I.T.

27.  Res. 316-14:         AUTHORIZES PAYMENT FOR INTERNET FIREWALLS FOR I.T.

28.  Res. 318-14:         ACCEPTS DONATION OF PARCEL FOR MANONO STREET from Violet Camara

29.  Res. 329-14:         Authorizes R&D to award funds to HCEOC, $113K for Transmedia Accelerator Program

30.  Res. 330-14:         AUTHORIZES PAYMENT for NEW PHONE SYSTEM FOR Pros. Atty, Hilo Office

31.  Res. 332-14:         AUTHORIZES FINANCE FOR ACQUISITION OF BANYAN TREES PARK, N. Kohala

32.  Bill 181:               RELATING TO THE CODE OF ETHICS

33.  Bill 210:               Re: OP BUDGET, Approp. $70,000 to purchase equipment for terrorism & other hazards.

34.  Bill 215:               RELATING to Appropriation Of Funds to NP Organizations, (property to belong to the NP)

 

Mayor Kenoi Submits Operating Budget for Fiscal Year 2013-14 to the Hawai’i County Council – Message to the Council

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, 2014 is hereby submitted. This balanced budget includes estimated revenues and appropriations of $394,318,524 and includes the operations of eleven of the County’s special funds as well as the General Fund. This budget is $8,886,474 less than the budget in effect when this administration began in 2008.

Overview

I would like to thank each of the members of the Hawai‘i County Council for your support and assistance in formulating a budget to maintain core county services in the year ahead. Our first obligation is always to properly protect our residents, deliver services to the elderly and the needy, provide for positive recreational opportunities for our children and provide an array of other essential services to our growing community. We are proud of our record in fulfilling these obligations despite unprecedented challenges during the past four years. We are determined to again meet our obligations to our residents in the year ahead, and to position our county to serve the growing needs of our communities in the future.

This budget proposal is the culmination of the very challenging years that have become known as the Great Recession. During the years that followed the economic turmoil of 2007 and 2008, our county tax collections declined and this county was forced to engage in an unprecedented series of budget reductions. County tax collections declined from $225.9 million in the year we took office to $198.3 million in the current year, which placed enormous strains on county government. This administration responded by cutting the county budget for four consecutive years, from $403 million when this administration began to $365 million in the current budget year. This required that county government become more efficient in order to maintain core services to the public. We witnessed an extraordinary effort by our county employees, who managed to maintain core services for our community despite a shrinking budget.

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Many more challenges lie ahead. We are emerging from this very difficult economic period with about 200 fewer workers on the county payroll than when this administration took office. However, the public worker furloughs that temporarily reduced salaries and wages to balance the budget in recent years will soon end. A series of new collective bargaining agreements have been negotiated on behalf of the state and the counties that will increase salary and wage costs. At the same time, expenses such as fuel, electricity, retirement and health care continue to increase.

Our departments in recent weeks have made it clear we now face deep cuts in core, essential services such as transit, parks and environmental management. This council urged us to take immediate action to prevent this, and we are addressing those concerns with this amended budget.

Addressing Community Needs

As our community grows, the needs of our residents also grow. Our police must have additional officers to protect public safety and to assure acceptable response times in rapidly growing rural communities such as Puna and Ka‘u. Our firefighters need additional resources and equipment to prepare them for the challenges of serving growing communities and the increasing demands of an expanding population. Demand for park space for our youth and our growing population is at an all-time high, which means the need for efficient park maintenance services is equally pressing. We are proud that the ridership on our Hele-On Bus system has steadily increased to record levels, but the skeleton staff of mechanics and support personnel that keeps our transit system running is now stretched to the limit.

These pressing needs cannot be addressed with another year of budget reductions. Therefore, this budget proposal seeks to build on the efficiencies that we have achieved during the past four years of budget cuts, and strategically invest resources into areas where our residents are now demanding improvement and innovation.

We will make these investments to better serve our communities while keeping the cost of government lower than it was at the start of this administration. We will collect less in property taxes next year than this county collected when we first took office four years ago.

Additional Police Officers

Police presence in the communities of Puna and Ka‘u has lagged behind the overall population growth in those communities. Growing populations in these communities have resulted in dramatic increases in calls for police assistance from the public. The Puna district alone encompasses 686 square miles, and residents and visitors made nearly 29,000 calls for service to police in 2012. Dispatchers prioritize calls in the interest of public safety, and the large distances our officers must patrol at times results in long response times for non-emergency calls. If this shortage of officers is allowed to continue, it could pose an unacceptable risk to public safety.

This budget proposes to add five police officers in Puna and another five officers in Ka‘u at a total cost of $588,688 for the coming fiscal year to address this issue. This proposed budget would also include $302,000 for police computer replacements to improve efficiency, and $158,884 in new funding for maintenance including investment in video surveillance cameras to protect public safety.

Fire and Ocean Safety

Additions to the Hawai‘i Fire Department budget will advance our efforts to improve fire staffing levels and modernize the equipment used by our first responders. That includes $168,000 for new front-line fire-pumper trucks for fire stations in Honoka‘a and Kea‘au. The replacement of both vehicles is a pressing need.

Also included in this budget request is funding for 12 new firefighters for the next fire recruit training class to fill longstanding vacancies within the department. The additional personnel will allow the department to reduce overtime costs, and will also make more manpower available for large incidents such as brushfires and natural disasters.

We are requesting $83,000 for salaries for two additional water safety officers at Punalu‘u Beach Park in Ka‘u. Currently this park is staffed with one water safety officer who works weekdays. The additional staff will significantly improve public safety at this increasingly busy ocean recreation area by ensuring an officer will be on duty each day, seven days a week.

The proposed budget also includes $300,000 for six new ocean safety towers to better protect both residents and visitors in our beach parks. The existing, aging wooden lifeguard towers were designed for a single water safety officer, but the current county system now calls for two lifeguards to be on site at many tower locations. The new towers will provide better work space for our officers, and improve visibility to increase public safety.

Transit Improvements

Our expanding public transit system provided a record 1.2 million rides island-wide last year. However, as more passengers ride, they require more service, which increases driver, maintenance and other costs. Our transit system has outgrown its existing staff.

Our Hele-On Bus system now has a fleet of 55 buses, and our transit system serves increasing numbers of riders in an area much larger than any other county. Our system now requires additional investment. This budget fortifies our Mass Transit Agency by adding $143,244 to fund an additional mechanic, a mechanic helper, and two clerks. This budget also increases funding for fuel and lubricants, and adds $122,170 to support a new Waikoloa shuttle route.

Our proposed staff additions will help address a backlog of vehicle maintenance that will make more vehicles available to enhance service, and will help the Mass Transit Agency keep pace with the ever-growing demands of increased ridership. These changes will allow us to continue to expand our Hele-On Bus service, including the new shuttle route to Waikoloa and the recently added service to Hawaiian Paradise Park.

We are proposing a bus fare increase from the current $1 per ride to $2 per ride for most passengers to raise an additional $637,500 in the year ahead. Fares for senior citizens, the disabled and students will be $1 per ride, and children under the age of 5 will continue to ride free. This continues to be an excellent value for our riders, since our projections show that our bus service will cost the county an average of more than $6.50 per ride in the year ahead. At a time when gasoline prices are at near-record levels, our Hele-On system continues to provide one of the most affordable transportation options in the state. We believe it is fair and appropriate to ask our Hele-On riders to contribute as we expand and improve their service.

Enhancing Information Technology

Information technology has the power to transform the way residents interact with their county government, allowing more people to access more services online such as bill paying, permitting, and reservations for licensing and other services. Our residents expect and demand that their government keep pace with the times by investing in information technology that makes it easier and more efficient for our citizens to do business with our county.

Building these systems requires a robust, resilient infrastructure, but our county’s current information technology network is underpowered and overextended. Our IT infrastructure is in need of immediate investment.

This budget includes $300,000 for critically needed new network equipment. The current design of the county’s network leaves it vulnerable to failure if just one or two pieces of legacy equipment fail. A redesigned network using modern equipment will increase the capacity, reliability, and speed of the network, which carries data ranging from everyday email to telephone calls to video conferencing in times of disaster.

Aging computers have also become a drag on worker productivity. Hundreds of the county’s computers rely on software that is so old that the manufacturer warns it will cease support of the obsolete operating system in April 2014, leaving those computers potentially vulnerable to cyber security threats. To keep our computer systems current and safe, we have budgeted $300,000 to lease 1,000 new computers to replace outdated, legacy equipment.

We are proud that our dedicated IT staff of 17 employees has kept our systems running with a bare-bones budget of $1.6 million, but our staffing levels are now far below national standards. National research shows a local government our size would be expected to have 93 employees in information technology, with a budget of $13.1 million.

Each of our existing IT personnel is responsible for supporting 152 employees, and we must provide them with additional support. We are proposing to add three new positions at a cost of $182,000, and are budgeting $28,000 for training to better equip our staff with the skills they need to keep pace with industry innovations.

We believe this is the time to overhaul and expand our information technology capacity to position ourselves to deliver the services that our growing community requires. We cannot delay these investments any longer.

Parks & Recreation

The Department of Parks & Recreation has overseen more than 60 construction projects during this administration while doing an outstanding job maintaining our park facilities and providing recreational services to our youth and seniors within our budgetary limitations. This proposed budget enhances the department’s capacity to maintain our growing portfolio of parks and facilities, and at the same time fulfill the ever-growing recreational demands of our community.

Seven new staff will be added to support operations, ranging from a new pool lifeguard to additional staff to work with our seniors. Parks positions that will be added or are being refunded after being left vacant in recent years are in Aquatics, Coordinated Services for the Elderly, Culture & the Arts, Ho‘olulu Complex, Administration, Parks Maintenance and Recreation.

The parks maintenance fleet will be enhanced in this budget, with $455,000 allotted for two pickup trucks with dumpers, a bucket truck, mini excavator, backhoe, tractor, and refuse truck. These tools will allow our maintenance crews to more efficiently maintain our parks and facilities, which are being used by more and more of our island families.

The popular Waipi‘o Ranger Program, which was first initiated in 2007, would also be re-established with $70,000 in this budget. The presence of the rangers will educate valley visitors about the history and resources of the valley, and provide a presence to enhance public safety. This budget includes $47,650 in additional support for our Elderly Activities Division to offset increased expenses including utilities and mileage reimbursements for our senior volunteers

Investing in a Sustainable Economy

Our administration is committed to investing in agriculture and growing a healthy Hawai‘i Island economy. Investment that creates opportunities in agriculture is ultimately an investment in our working families and in preserving open space.

This budget funds currently vacant positions in the Department of Research & Development, including an agriculture specialist and a sustainability specialist at a cost of $120,048. These positions will be staffed with strong advocates and skilled networkers who will work with their communities to implement recommendations contained in initiatives such as the county’s Agriculture Development Plan and the Food Self-Sufficiency Baseline Study.

This budget also advances our commitment to a sustainable future through a proposed $346,000 investment in agriculture support and development. These funds will be used to help grow the next generation of farmers and create jobs while reducing our dependency on imported foods. This proposal includes full funding for the six Soil & Water Conservation Districts on our island to encourage responsible and sustainable agricultural practices to protect our rural ecosystems.

Revenue Adjustments

The proposed budget adjustments described above will fund basic, core services that our residents deserve and expect. These proposals will allow the county to maintain essential county services for an expanding population in the face of escalating costs, but the county must have the necessary tools to meet our obligations to the public.

After four years of budget cuts, our per capita county operating budget today is the lowest in the state. County property tax collections have declined from $225.9 million in the year we took office to $198.3 million this year, and we must adjust property tax rates to provide the services our residents demand. Therefore, this budget incorporates a property tax adjustment that would allow the county to collect an estimated $219 million in the year ahead. That is nearly $7 million less than the county collected in 2008, when this administration began.

Our proposed tax rate adjustments have been structured to be affordable for every property tax class. For example, members of the homeowner class would pay on average an additional $8.59 per month under the new rates. Owners of agricultural lands would pay an additional $4.75 per month on average. These adjustments are affordable for our residents and businesses, but provide the revenue necessary to deliver essential services to our communities.

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These adjustments are broad based because they will fund investments that will benefit our entire island community. Our proposed increases in police patrol officers in Puna and Ka‘u will benefit those communities, while our investment in mass transit will benefit the entire island. The Hamakua and Kea‘au communities will benefit from new fire equipment, while the recruitment and training of additional firefighters will enhance public safety for the entire island. Our residents and visitors will be better able to enjoy our shorelines in greater safety because of the additional lifeguards and more modern and functional lifeguard towers we have proposed. Our proposed investment in information technology will better safeguard county data, and will lead to more modern and enhanced services for our residents.

Significant Changes to March 1, 2013 Revenue Estimates

General Fund

  • Fund Balance Carryover – Carryover projections have increased by $1,650,000, which represents an increase in current year expenditure savings as a result of restrictions on hiring, travel, equipment and other spending.
  • County Vehicle Registration Fees – Additional revenue of $894,600 is based on a proposed fee increase, which will more accurately reflect the cost of issuing vehicle registrations and provide for improvements to the Vehicle Registration and Licensing Division operations.
  • Real Property Tax – Revenue was adjusted to reflect an increase of $18,750,000, resulting from a proposed adjustment to tax rates to provide necessary revenue to meet core County responsibilities. The proposed rates are shown in Exhibit A.

Highway Fund

  • Vehicle & Trailer Weight Taxes – Proposed increases to weight taxes generated an additional $1,881,000 to support transportation services.

Sewer Fund

  • Transfer from General Fund – Additional revenue of $1,594,352 will be provided by general fund transfer to meet the critical operational needs of the Wastewater Division, including negotiated wage increases.

Significant Changes to March 1, 2013 Expenditure Estimates
 
General Fund

  • Provision for Compensation Adjustment – Collective bargaining agreements have recently concluded for UPW and HGEA.  A provision for wage increases was added to reflect this amount, estimated at $2,950,000.
  • Post-employment Benefits – Funding in the amount of $3,150,000 was added in the expectation of making a contribution toward the County’s unfunded future health benefits (GASB 45).
  • Health Benefits and Retirement Benefits – An additional $2,250,000 was put in the budget based on updated estimates of required payments.
  • Transfer to Sewer Fund – Subsidy to the fund has been increased by $1,594,352 to add funding for critical operational needs of the division.

Highway Fund

  • Mass Transit – Funding of $1,881,000 was shifted from the general fund to the highway fund, based on revenue from proposed vehicle weight tax increases.

Position Changes from March 1, 2013 Budget Proposal

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Conclusion

Our core county government services must be maintained, and we must now make strategic investments in critical areas such as police protection, ocean safety, information technology and our mass transit system. These are appropriate and important areas where the county should invest resources to improve public safety and public services.

This administration has reduced tax collections and cut spending for four consecutive years. We appreciate the difficult decisions our departments made in this challenging environment to reduce costs while still protecting core services, and we are proud of our administration’s record of accomplishment.

These efforts have clearly made county government leaner and more efficient. Our county government is less expensive today than it was four years ago, and this proposed budget is $8,886,474 less than the budget in effect when this administration began.

We believe this budget represents a careful, thoughtful plan to better serve our growing population. It represents an investment in exactly those areas where the need is greatest, and where the benefits to our communities will be most important.

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

Aloha,
William P. Kenoi
MAYOR

Special Interest Legislation Introduced by Councilwoman Margaret Wille

Councilwoman Margaret Wille sent out a newsletter yesterday and she had the following special interest legislation that she is introducing at the upcoming council meetings on March 12th and March 13th.

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Department of Environmental Management to provide a comprehensive overview of its solid waste programs – Comm. 169 (9:45 am 3/12/13)

I am requesting this presentation so that the Council is not asked to approve solid waste contracts on a piecemeal –case by case basis – without first having a comprehensive understanding of this important responsibility of County government.   

Urging the Mayor to Immediately Implement the West Hawai‘i School Impact Fee – Reso. 75 (10:45 am 3/12/13)

I am introducing this Resolution because of  Mayor Kenoi’s Administration’s on-going refusal to implement DOE’s West Hawaii School Impact Fee program.

Audit of the Police Department’s Receipt, Storage, and Disposal of Evidence – Reso.78  (1 pm 3/12/13)

I am requesting this audit to promote and reinforce trust in government and ensure that all evidence and confiscated property is being properly handled.

Corporation Counsel Conflict of Interest – Reso. 53   (9:20 am 3/13/13)

I introduced this resolution to address the conflict of interest of having one attorney (Corporation Counsel/Lincoln Ashida) have primary responsibility for simultaneously representing the Executive and the Legislative branches of the County government – and at the same time also being a member of the Mayor’s cabinet. A majority of the Council opposed having a separation of representation for the County Council, so this legislation has been forwarded to the full Council with a negative recommendation.

Commission Nominations-

Mr. Oliver “Sonny” Shimaoka of Council District 9 to the County of Hawai‘i Transportation Commission – Comm. 170 (9:15 am 3/12/13)

Other Legislation of Interest-

Report of Change Orders Authorized – Comm. 3.5 & 3.6 (1 pm 3/12/13)

There is concern about the large amount of overruns related to contracts with the County – some as high as 8 fold.  

Organic Waste Diversion 10 year contract – Reso 31 (9:20 am 3/13/13)

This is a request for authorization for a long-term contract about an important component of our solid waste program.

To view County Council & Committee TV, link here www.naleo.tv/tv-schedules/channel-52/ To follow state legislation link here www.capitol.hawaii.gov/

Margaret Wille – Council Member, District 9 – North & South Kohala, 64-1067 Mamalahoa Hwy, Kamuela, HI 96743,  PH: 808-887-2069; mwille@co.hawaii.hi.us

 

Public Invited to Inaugural Ceremonies for Newly Elect Mayor, Prosecuting Attorney & Council Members

County of Hawai’i Executive and Legislative Inaugural Ceremonies for the newly elected Mayor, Prosecuting Attorney, and Council Members will be held at the Afook Chinen Civic Auditorium at 12 Noon on Monday, December 3, 2012.  The public is invited to attend.

The 2010 Hawaii County Council on inauguration day

The program will begin with a prelude of familiar selections chosen by Bandmaster Paul Arceo and the Hawai’i County Band.  The procession will be accompanied by the Hawai’i County Band.  The Administration of Oath will be administered by The Honorable Greg Nakamura, Judge, Third Circuit Court.

Skylark Rossetti will act as mistress of ceremonies.  Address will be given by The Honorable Billy Kenoi, Mayor; The Honorable Mitch Roth, Prosecuting Attorney and the Honorable J Yoshimoto, Chairperson, Hawai’i County Council.

Presentation of Colors by Hilo High School JROTC Color Guards.  The Kamehameha School Concert Glee will perform musical rendering. The National and State Anthems will be performed by Cindy Intendencia accompanied by the Hawai’i County Band.  Invocation by Senior Pastor Sheldon Lacsina, New Hope – Hilo and the Benediction by Deacon Larry Ignacio, Annunciation Church – Waimea.

Congrats to Greggor Ilagon and Mahalo Fred Blas

Well it looks like we will now have the youngest Hawaii County Council Candidate in history serving our Hawaii County Council in new “Councilman Greggor Ilagon”.

Greggor Ilagan

I look forward to working with Councilman Ilagon in the future and I want to say mahalo to current Councilman Fred Blas for his hard work that he has done while he has been in office.

Councilman Greggor… get ready for me to be on your ass bro! ;)

Public Hearing on Bill No. 292 – Restricting Geothermal Hours

The Hawaii County Council is having a public hearing on Bill No. 292 which would restrict geothermal exploratory and production drilling to the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.  The public will be allowed up to 3-minutes to provide testimony.

Pahoa Neighborhood Facility

The public hearing is on Friday, November 2, 2012 at 5:30 pm in the Pāhoa Neighborhood Facility.  For more information, please call Chairman Yagong at 961-8538.

 

Final Kona Kohala County Council Candidate Forum on Monday

On Monday, October 8, there is a moderated candidate forum at Kealakehe High School cafeteria starting at 6 p.m. featuring two sets of candidates.
The candidates for County Council for District 6, Volcano through South Kona, are Maile David and incumbent Brenda Ford.  The candidates for County Council for District 9, Waikoloa through Kohala, are Sonny Shimaoka and Margaret Wille.  The candidates for District 7, Dru Kanuha, and District 8, Karen Eoff, are no longer in contention; both won in the Primary so they are not included in this forum.

The public is encouraged to attend even if they live in different districts from the candidates, as two of these candidates will represent the island, in addition to their own district,  on the Hawaii County Council.

Because there are only two candidates for each office, the candidates will have time to more fully discuss their ideas and positions.  They will have opportunities to comment on some of their opponents’ answers.  The moderator will be Sherry Bracken of LAVA 105.3 fm radio and Hawaii Public Radio.   Timers will be Marni Herkes of League of Women Voters and Hazel Beck of the Small Business Development Corporation.

There will be no food sales at this forum, so the audience members are encouraged to bring their own.

The County Council Candidate Forum will be carried live on LAVA 105.3 fm islandwide from 6 p.m. until 8  p.m.  KLEI TV 6 will film the forum and air it Tuesday evening, October 9, at 8 p.m.

The forum sponsors include Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce, Kohala Coast Resort Association, Hawaii Island Board of Realtors, West Hawaii Today, hawaii247.com, Mahalo Broadcasting/LAVA 105.3 fm, and Rotary of Kona, as well as Kealakehe High School.   The League of Women Voters will have Absentee Ballot applications and the pros and cons of the State Constitutional Amendments and the County Charter Amendments.

The public may submit questions via email to info@lava105.com or via fax to 769-5050.   And don’t forget to set your DVR to record the Hirono-Lingle debate on KHON Channel 2 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Jamae Kawauchi Responds to the Cancellation of Today’s Special Council Meeting

Today, the Office of the Hawaii County Clerk received media inquiries concerning the cancellation of the today’s special meeting of the Hawaii County Council.

Ms. Kawauchi stated, “The deadline for filing responsive pleadings in the lawsuits has been extended to October 26, 2012. The Hawaii County Council cancelled the special meeting today to allow additional time to explore issues regarding the representation of all named defendants. The Hawaii County Council will be discussing these matters at the October 3, 2012 Hawaii County Council meeting.”

Jamae Kawauchi

Commentary: Council Candidate Ilagan – “The Big Picture”

Greggor Ilagan – “The Big Picture”

In unity there is strength, and in unity there are also solutions. That is why as your council member an important action I plan to take is to start bringing people together. Each private subdivision has its challenges. I am open to listen to each one of them. That is the first step to seeing the big picture, as well as finding all the pieces.

I will set up regular meetings to invite subdivision members to share concerns and solutions. The meetings should accomplish a number of things. The boards will be aware of each other’s concerns and the solutions they have come up with. Other benefits could include combined purchasing power to lower cost and shared experienced with the quality of service providers.

Being part of a cohesive community not only increases the effectiveness in operations but also improves the quality of life for everyone involved. To focus on the big picture, as your council member I will not only be your representative in the county government but also an active advocate at the state and national level.

Greggor Ilagan

County Council Candidate Greggor Ilagon on “The Size of Government”

My vision of government size is neither big government nor small government for Hawaii County.

County Council Candidate Greggor Ilagon

There is a third approach I call “common sense government.” The county does not need to hire or cut employees. What the county needs to do is optimize its resources; in other words, to utilize our people to be more productive. However, management should never forget that we are all people, led by our logic, but moved by our emotions. That is why government lacks common sense, because the government neglects people’s emotions.

As I walk door to door, I don’t just learn the concerns of the district. I feel them. It opens my eyes to witness the root of people’s concerns. For politicians to help people they need to see people, otherwise politicians become detached. Being on the same wavelength takes place when politicians set foot on door steps in their district, holding a homeless child in need or comforting a husband who lost his wife of 35 years.

I am humbled to experience the diverse lives of many due to my campaign efforts. It brings me great joy to be able to participate in democracy at the age of 25 years old. It is the most awakening experience of my life. That is why for me, it is common sense to work tirelessly to win this election. It is common sense for me to help people in need, and in my position, it is common sense government that I stand for. Let us come together in this common issue that we the people need to fix, not the size of our government, but how we run it.

Councilman Yagong’s Daughter Chelsea Files Nomination Papers for District 1 County Council Seat

I just read the following from Chelsea Yagong, the daughter of Hawaii County Councilman Dominic Yagong (who is resigning his seat to run for the Hawaii County Mayor position the following):

Chelsea on the left (Photo from her Facebook album)

It is official…today I filed papers to run for Hawaii County Council, District 1.

This is the perfect time to get involved with government. With all the technological advancements, more and more people are paying attention and holding their elected officials accountable. I would love to be in a position where I can effect positive change for our community.

It is also very important that we, the younger generation, step up to the plate and get involved with government. We need to be part of the process. All the decisions being made today, are effecting our tomorrow. Let’s be proactive, get educated and make a difference.

I would really appreciate your support in this up coming primary election, on August 11, Saturday. REMEMBER you must be a registered voter to participate in the election…I have attached a link to the voter registration forms. Please fill out the form and send it in by JULY 12!! That is the deadline to register to vote in the primary election.

If you have any questions, or would like to support my campaign…please feel free to give me a call at 808-333-0528, or email: chelsyagong@yahoo.com

Thank you!!
Chels

Groundbreaking for the New Mohouli Heights Senior Neighborhood was Yesterday

Mohouli Heights Senior Neighborhood, a new 60-unit affordable senior rental housing project in Hilo had it’s groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday, March 29.

From left to right: left to right: Donald Ikeda, Hawaii County Council, William Takaba, Managing Director, Keith Kato, Executive Director - Hawaii Island Community Development Corp, Michael Singer, President, Heartwood Pacific LLC (general contractor), Cheryl Fukunaga, US Dept of Housing and Urban Development, Cynthia Elliott, Rural Community Assistance Corporation, J. Yoshimoto, Hawaii County Council, Dennis “Fresh” Onishi, Hawaii County Council

Mohouli Heights Senior Neighborhood Phase 1 is the result of a public-private collaboration between State of Hawaii’s Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation (HHFDC), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), County of Hawaii, Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) and the Hawaii Island Community Development Corporation (HICDC).

 

HHFDC provided $20.5 million in state and federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits, a Rental Housing Trust Fund (RHTF) loan of $8.6 million, and a Rental Assistance Revolving Fund (RARF) loan of $7.5 million. The project is also financed with $600,000 in HOME Investment Partnership Act funds administered by the County of Hawaii and a $4.0 million interim loan from RCAC.

The rental units are targeted at seniors whose incomes are at or below 30 to 50 percent of the Hawaii County median income as determined by HUD. Utilizing rental assistance from HUD and the County of Hawaii the tenants’ share of the monthly rent will be approximately 30 percent of their income for a 576 square foot one-bedroom unit. In exchange for federal and state financing and tax credits rents will remain affordable for 61 years.

By providing public lands and working with the Hawaii Island Community Development Corporation, the County of Hawaii continues its collaborative efforts to provide safe, decent and affordable housing for our kupuna,” said Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi. “In addition to generating much need jobs today, the Mohouli Heights Senior Neighborhood Phase 1 project will be a model as we build an expanded center to serve the needs of our growing senior population.”

“The Hawaii Island Community Development Corporation wishes to acknowledge the assistance that we have received for this project from all levels of Federal, State and County government,” said HICDC Executive Director Keith Kato. “The cooperation of the Federal, State and County agencies has been the key in putting this project together with our investors, the HHF Equity Fund VI, LLC. We are working to continue the development of this Mohouli project with a new home for the Hilo Adult Day Center to replace their current facility at the old Hilo Memorial Hospital on Rainbow Drive. ”

“Public-private partnerships like this are essential to producing affordable housing,” said HHFDC Executive Director Karen Seddon. “By leveraging state resources, we are able to produce more with less. In addition to delivering safe and affordable housing for our seniors, these projects also create construction jobs and project value, investing in the future of our community.”

Mohouli Heights Senior Neighborhood is located at the corner of Komohana and Mohouli Streets in Hilo. Phase 1 is comprised of 11 residential buildings and a community gathering place connected with covered walkways. In addition to the new Hilo Adult Day Center future plans include 90 more residential units for seniors.

25 Year-Old Greggor Ilagan Announces Candidacy for Hawaii County Council District 4

Hawaiian Paradise Park resident Greggor Ilagan declared his candidacy for the new District 4 seat representing Puna Makai on the Hawaii County Council to a group of supporters Friday.

Greggor Ilagan

Ilagan said, “Puna is comprised of unique individuals and the government has been in the business of putting people in neat little boxes with one size fits all laws. Many of these laws only stifle innovation and personal freedom with minimal public benefit. That has to stop!“

The 25-year-old is a 2004 graduate of Waiakea High School, served six years in the Air National Guard, and is presently an accounting major at Hawaii Community College.

Getting Personal With Hawaii County Council Candidate Margaret Wille

Last week, Waimea resident and attorney Margaret Wille announced on her blog in a posting, Moving Forward Towards Run for District 9 County Council Seat, that she would be making a run for the Hawaii County Council seat that Pete Hoffman is vacating as his term is over.

A number of months ago, Councilman Pete Hoffmann called  and asked me to stop to discuss some proposed ordinance he was drafting.  As the conversation about the ordinance was coming to a close, Pete turned to me and said — I think you should run for my seat on the County Council next year  (he is now termed out). 

Before that  I had not given considered running for this legislative office. I told him I would give him my answer by the end of the month. And my answer was yes.   Thereafter, the more I thought about being part of the council and working in the area of legislation and policy, the more excited I became.

I’ve gotten to know Margaret online and through her blog so I asked her a few questions about her potential run for County Council.

I asked “who and/or what inspires you?”

What inspires me:  The beauty of our island — trees, the ocean, our mountains,  open pastures, the sky. I am very grateful to live here and be part of this community.

The extraordinary potential of this island community — its unique history and rich cultural values and sense of place.  

The belief that we can each make a difference — to make the world a little better place.

Somene who inspired me:   My mother — who dedicated much of her life working on national peace efforts. She always gave of herself for the wellbeing of others in need.

Judge Spottswood W. Robinson,  Judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals  for the District of Columbia — with whom I did an internship. He had an extraordinary sense of justice and dedication to the rule of law.

I went on to ask her “tell me a little bit about your upbringing” and she stated:

I spent most of my life growing up in New England — lived and worked in Maine before moving to Hawaii.  I enjoy rural life. Over the years while living in Maine I had a pet pig “Easter Katie” (that thought it was a dog), horses, dogs, a donkey, a goose that liked to watch television, and an extraordinary crow named Frank that hung out around my law office. He would sit on my shoulder while I worked in my law office. 

I first came to Hawaii in 1970 when my brothers Eugene and Ward (Thomas) McCain purchased the Aloha Theater and healthfood store.  I helped them open the store — painting, cleaning, and cooking. That year was the first time I drove through Waimea. Waimea-town  felt like a secret garden (where the mountains and forests and streams met the plains and pastures). Ever since then I thought about how lucky Waimea’s residents were to live in such a special place.   My mother lived in Puako for many years. I moved here full time in 2002.

Throughout my life and travels, I have had many extraordinary opportunities – especially educational opportunities. I  want to do what I can so others have similar educational opportunities and are able to find a good job that is meaningful and secure here on the Big Island.

I then asked “What would be the first bill that you would put before the county if elected?”

Before introducing any bill, I would want to make a list of all projects that are underway and figure out why each of them has not yet happened and what needs to be done to move them forward as quickly as possible.

With respect to legislation, I would likely start with legislation that would be helpful to all segments of the the District 9 community (and also helpful to the rest of the Island)– such as working on establishing a regional transit hub in Waimea and simplifying the subdivision code so that the permitting process is easier.  I would also want to assess the need for legislation to identify and better protect our Hawaiian cultural assets. I would also want to continue focusing  on infrastructure needs and public transportation, preservation of Pelekane Bay and harbor and recreational  issue in both North and South Kohala, and water issues in general.  

Because I have followed Council business over the years, I am fairly knowledgable in a lot of areas.  A key long-term focus will be on educational efforts from a county perspective — from local community efforts such as a mentoring program, and down the road additional vocational and high tech educational opportunities for all ages.

I have experience drafting legislation and regulations —  including drafting regulations for the Maine Department of Agriculture. In the 1980’s I was worked on labor issues involved in federal immigration legislation and testified before a Senate Committee on behalf of Maine woodsworkers.

Candidate Wille posted the following on her website:

County Council District 9 as now configured– which basically includes North and South Kohala — is a place of extraordinary potential with extraordinary people.  We are a place of great resourcefulness among ourselves.  

Here is what I have drafted so far about my candidacy:

HELP ELECT MARGARET WILLE

District 9 County Council: Seeking office for the benefit of our communities: Hawi, Kapaau, Kawaihae, Mauna Kea and Mauna Lani, Puako, Waikoloa, Waimea, and Waikii

Employmentattorney practicing land use law in Waimea (previous employment included part-time teaching at Parker School, consultant for a state department of agriculture, and administrator of a state-wide volunteer program for the American Bar Association to assist institutionalized adult and youth offenders reentering society)

Educational background:  J.D. Law; Masters Education; B.A. Anthropology

Core values: pono – balance and rightness; ‘ike loa – wisdom and knowledge; aloha ‘āina – love of the land;  and  ho‘omau – perseverance

Focus as a councilperson will be: Availability of good jobs and educational opportunities for District 9 residents; need-based and entrepreneurial solutions to crime and social problems; agricultural sufficiency and resiliency; implementation of a 511 traffic alert system; completion of the Kawaihae to Waimea bypass; opportunities for recreation and health; restoration of Pelekane Bay; low cost renewable energy; promote the wisdom and glory of the Hawaiian people and culture.

Vision: Community First!  Let me help you make a difference.

Efforts and Accomplishments as an active member of our community:

  • Margaret’s proposed redistricting plan (Plan 40) was selected as the final base Plan for the Hawaii County Council Districts. [Margaret drafted this Plan 40 in consultation with community members around the County to challenge the Commission’s previously preferred Plan that was lop-sided in favor of Hilo.]
  • Margaret submitted various amendments to the County Charter Commission, which as adopted by the Charter Commission, were approved by the voters in 2008. [The amendments she submitted included the original draft of the voter approved “public trust” Charter amendment.  The objective of the “public trust” Charter provision is to protect and preserve Hawaiian cultural sites and practices and environmental natural resources. The Charter Commission also adopted suggestions she made to provide internet notification about government meetings.]
  • In a pro bono legal action, Margaret successfully represented Waimea community members to force the County of Hawaii to require Parker Ranch to carry out its obligation to construct the Parker Ranch Connector Road as had been promised in the 1990s. As the result of these legal actions, the Parker Ranch Connector Road (2 phases) was completed in 2008.
  • In another pro bono legal action, while co-chair of the Waimea Planning and Design Committee, Margaret in collaboration with Parker School reached a settlement with the County and Parker School in the context of the school’s planned expansion. The additional permit conditions, as now being implemented, provide for increased pedestrian safety, and mitigation of traffic congestion in Waimea in the area of Lindsey and Kapiolani Roads.
  • As a member of the South Kohala Traffic Safety Committee, Margaret recently suggested the construction of a regional transit hub on Lindsey Road extension adjacent to the Waimea Post Office to provide for a multi-modal transit hub and information facility.  With the support of Councilman Pete Hoffmann, in December 2011, the County Council unanimously voted in favor of placing this project on the County’s Capital Improvement Project List.
  • While participating in a meeting concerning traffic safety at the Waimea public schools, Margaret proposed the original idea of an intra-Waimea shuttle bus service from Lakeland to Kamuela View Estates, which with the help of Parker School representatives, the South Kohala Traffic Safety Committee, and Councilmember Pete Hoffmann, this bus service is now a part of our island-wide hele-on service.
  • As part of the Parker Ranch Connector Road settlement, with the help of the Trails and Greenways Committee and members of the Kenoi administration, Margaret negotiated for additional easement land to be given by Parker Ranch to the County at no cost for the Waimea Trails and Greenways project –so that the trail would not be fenced up against residential lots.
  • While a Director on the Waimea Community Association Board of Directors,  with the help of innumerable participants  from federal, state and county agencies as well as many non-government entities and individuals, Margaret facilitated a community meeting on Emergency Preparedness and Resiliency.
  • As co-chair of the Conservation Subcommittee of the Community Development Plan Committee, Margaret, along with Bob Hunter and other Waimea residents, successfully lead the effort to remove the one-acre zoning across the face of Waimea’s Hōkū‘ula pu‘u.
  • While participating in a community meeting addressing issues relating to the proposed County agricultural plan, Margaret organized the participants in an effort to draft and lobby in support of county legislation to address the frightening problem of the little red ant invasive species spreading across the island. With the help of Councilman Pete Hoffmann, the resulting County Council resolution passed 9-0.
  • As a member of the South Kohala Community Development Plan Steering Committee, Margaret drafted many provisions that are now part of that Plan enacted into law in 2008, such as on issues relating to increasing higher education opportunities in South Kohala and increasing the authority of the SKCDP action committee.
  • Over the past decade Margaret has testified many times at County and State legislative and board hearings on issues affecting the welfare of our communities and has often informed affected community constituencies about important issues so that others could participate and make an impact on the government decision-making process.

MARGARET WILLE NEEDS YOUR HELP

FOR MORE INFORMATION OR JUST TO SAY YOU SUPPORT HER CANDIDACY, CONTACT MARGARET:    margaretwille@mac.com;  887-1419; Friends to Elect Margaret Wille  P.O. Box 528 Kamuela Hi 96743

Councilwoman Smart Will Not Be Seeking a Second Council Term at This Time

Brittany Smart announced today that she will not be seeking a second council term at this time, but is keeping her options open for the future. “Due to personal reasons, I am unable to commit to another two year term at this time. I am honored to serve District 6, but have to think of what’s best for the people,” she stated.

Councilowoman Brittany Smart

Ms. Smart, however, expressed her support for Councilmember Brenda Ford for the District 6 seat. “Ms. Ford is completely dedicated to this job and has my utmost confidence in accurately representing the district,” Ms. Smart said. “Ms. Ford is very knowledgeable in issues that face rural areas, such as lack of government access and infrastructure, agricultural issues, and sufficient police presence. Ms. Ford has promised to follow through on any projects that may remain at the end of my term, such as the Pahala Emergency Shelter and Gym, the Ocean View Transfer Station, and last, but not least, a Ka`u Council office for public testimony.”

Ms. Smart wanted to sincerely thank all of her constituents for their support and to assure them that she will continue to diligently advocate for the District for the remainder of her term. Ms. Smart also thanked the Council members and the Mayor’s administration for their help and support as well. Lastly, she sent heartfelt thanks to Governor Neil Abercrombie for his support, especially in providing the $17.9 million dollars for the Pahala Emergency Shelter and Gym.

Dr. James Weatherford Announces His Candidacy For 2012 Hawaii County Council

This is to make public my intention to be a candidate for Hawaii County Council, District 4, in 2012.

4th District Hawaii Council Candidate Dr. James Weatherford

My candidacy derives from my passion for and commitment to public service, and the desire to serve this community that has given me so much.

Puna faces many challenges and opportunities in the coming years. It would be an honor to serve as County Council member for this community, to work on these challenges, and to help Puna realize the opportunities that are possible.

My campaign will neither solicit nor accept any private campaign contributions and will be funded solely from the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund.

I look forward to discussing constituent concerns and growing a common vision for Puna during the campaign and when in Council.

James Weatherford

Hawaiian Paradise Park

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Is Hawaii County Council Opening Pandora’s Box?

I got to love the thought that a few members of our council have opened up the Hawaii County Tip Line.

Unfortunately, I think it’s going to get closed down rather quickly.

They are allowing anonymous folks to call in and report about things with out valid facts behind them.  This Hawaii County Tip Line is paid for with our tax dollars… so therefor anything recorded on that tip line should be available for the general public to hear.

I may ask to hear these recordings in a few days just to see what type of stuff is being said on this tip line.  If I’m denied access to these recordings… I may have to remind them about the Hawaii State Office of Information Practices.

Council Chairman Yagong is going to be the Wizard of Oz and the keeper of the magic box:

…The phone is located in my Chairman’s Office in Hilo, and people can leave their message with a name and number if they want a return call.  However, calls can also be placed anonymously if you so desire…

However, Yagong goes on to state that these phone calls will only be available for review in executive session… What’s up with that?

It is my intention to provide a monthly report to council at an executive session for their review.  Names and phone numbers (if provided) will be redacted from the report.   If a caller wishes not to be part of the executive session report, please indicate so on the message and your call will not be included….

So I believe that the newspapers will soon be asking for the contents of these recordings soon enough… I know I’m thinking about filing an OIP request.

What could come out of Hawaii the Hawaii County Pandora Box... LOL

Budget Observations by Councilman Hoffman… “We are currently in that ‘Never-Never-Land’ “

Commentary By Councilman Pete Hoffman:

We are currently in that ‘never-never-land’ that prevails immediately prior to the publication of the first draft of the County budget.  When good years reigned, few people bothered with the specifics.  A sense of optimism surrounded the process, and while budget discipline might not have been completely ignored, neither was it a subject of importance.  After all why worry excessively over any number of vacant funded positions?

Now in our third year of significant economic difficulty, budget preparations take on a whole different meaning, particularly when further wage reductions and even layoffs are real possibilities.  Let’s be certain we don’t misstate this situation: the Mayor and the administration did not cause this recession.  It isn’t their fault.  At the same time, it’s hard not to overlook the obvious.  A few Council members have continuously argued for pro-active measures to address the County’s economy over the past two years.  While these proposals would not have solved the economic downturn completely, implementation of some of these suggestions would have greatly improved our current situation.  Instead, the decisions that will be made for the next fiscal year may prove more onerous for us all.

Regardless of the short-term ‘fixes’ the administration and Council will debate in connection with the 2011-2012 budget, there are a couple of longer-range proposals that should be adopted immediately.  I’ve mentioned these previously, on several occasions, and they have been met with ‘thunderous silence’.  In my opinion, there should be a top-to-bottom review of our property tax system.  The disparities of the current tax structure need fundamental reform.  I recognize this may not be an overly popular topic, but to continue the maze of tax rates, exemptions, and other aspects that inflict our current tax structure is to continue to promote a system that does not adequately address present day or future budgetary requirements.

Second, this County must institute a complete reassessment of property values, particularly for industrial, commercial and resort properties.  This review should be made by professional consultants outside the

County administration. We aren’t receiving anywhere near the tax revenues we should from these properties.  I can hear the cries already, “you will hurt business!!” Nonsense.  It’s time we understood that County taxpayers cannot continue this form of ‘corporate subsidy’.  The least we should do is to assess other property categories at approximately the same rate as residential properties.  When some resort and commercial interests are assessed at 50% of market value and residential homes are assessed at 80/90%, something needs adjustment.

Once again, it is a matter of fairness, but more importantly, these are potential revenue sources into which the County should expand.  If these recommendations were adopted two years ago, we would be in less economic ‘doo-doo’ then we are today.  Don’t misinterpret.  To enact measures like these demand the ability and commitment to make tough decisions.  Not everyone will be pleased.  However, I assure you not all will be pleased with the measures needed to handle next fiscal year’s budget either.  The question is when do we start to make the changes needed to correct this situation?  The longer we wait, the harder the decisions will be in the coming years.  I strongly suggest that as part of any budget ordinance for 2011-2012, property tax reform and a property assessment review be part and parcel of that document.  If the Council and administration are committed to correcting years of neglect in these areas, the time to do so is now.

Wordless Wednesday – Our New County Council

Click to enlarge