Coast Guard Conducts Harbor Tour with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard met with the U.S. Coast Guard on Oahu and conducted a tour of Honolulu Harbor, Friday.

Tulsi Coast Guard

Rear Adm. Charles W. Ray, 14th Coast Guard District commander, hosted the tour and provided Gabbard an up close look at Coast Guard operations in and around the Port of Honolulu. Gabbard received a briefing at the Coast Guard Sector Honolulu command center where she observed how the Coast Guard conducts search and rescue cases, responds to pollution incidents and maintains a law enforcement presence.

Tulsi Coast Guard Captain

She also visited the Coast Guard Cutters Morgenthau and Kukui where she spoke with the commanding officers and crew about their missions in Hawaii and throughout the Pacific.

 

Lava Continues to Enter the Ocean at Kupapa`u Point – Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Report

After a 12 km (7.5 mile) journey from the vent on Puʻu ʻŌʻō cone through a lava tube, lava pours into the ocean in narrow streams at one of the eastern entry points.

HVO5

Another entry point has two larger lava streams entering the water. The lava fragments due to cooling and disruption by the battering surf, and some of these pieces float on the water’s surface in front of the entry point (see lower left portion of photo).

HVO6

Over the past week this spatter cone on the floor of Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater has been the source of several large, but brief, lava flows on the crater floor. Today, the cone was producing pulsating gas jetting sounds.

HVO7

Hawaii State Environmental Council Releases Annual Report on the Environment

“Towards a Green Economy: Introducing the GPI to Hawaii” adopts supplemental measurement to GDP

The Hawaii State Environmental Council today released its 2012 Annual Report, titled, Towards a Green Economy: Introducing the GPI to Hawaii.” The report introduces a new, holistic measure of prosperity and progress to Hawaii by introducing a new way to measure the state’s environmental health in relation to economic progress called the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI).

Click for more information

Click for more information

The GPI supplements the standard economic measure of growth, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which ignores key costs of economic activity and likely overestimates economic growth.  GPI adjusts GDP by deducting environmental and societal costs, such as pollution or depletion of non-renewable resources that result from that growth.

“The GPI will serve as a standardized method for measuring the true health of the economy,” said study co-author Dr. Regina Ostergaard-Klem of Hawaii Pacific University.

Co-author Dr. Kirsten Oleson of the University of Hawaii at Manoa added that “Hawaii’s GPI initiative is a step towards balancing economic development and quality of life. By accounting for the environmental costs that result from economic activities, we can help ensure that we do not degrade ‘aina, forests, coasts and natural beauty.”

The calculation of this new indicator dovetails with state sustainability and open data initiatives, such as the Governor’s New Day Plan, Hawaii Sustainability 2050, Hawaii Green Growth Initiative, and Open Data portal.

The GPI provides a very different picture of economic prosperity that policy makers can use in policy evaluation and budget decisions. “The report’s analysis shows that while Hawaii’s GDP increased nearly every year over the past decade, the environmental costs of that economic growth can be significant,” Environmental Council Chair Mary Steiner explained.

For example, in 2000, the economic cost of environmental degradation across nine indicators including water pollution, forest loss, and nonrenewable energy depletion amounted to $6.2 billion. The report authors stress that this cost is likely a gross underestimate as available data is currently incomplete. The Environmental Council looks forward to improving these estimates in future years.

“With the publication of this report, Hawaii joins a group of innovative nations and states building more accurate indicators to guide policy while making environmental data more accessible and relevant to the public,” said Steiner. “Much of our people’s well-being is derived from things like healthy forests, productive landscapes, and clean beaches. Losing or degrading these assets has real economic cost.”

To view a copy of the annual report go to:

http://oeqc.doh.hawaii.gov/Shared%20Documents/2012-Annual-Report-by-Hawaii-State-Environmental%20Council.pdf

This year’s pilot GPI exercise is the initial phase of a long-term research project that seeks to quantify the value of our natural capital here in Hawaii, leading towards greener and more sustainable decision-making for Hawaii.

Aikido of Hilo Hosted Its Annual Osensei Memorial Seminar

Aikido of Hilo hosted its annual Osensei Memorial Seminar April 27-28, 2013. Acclaimed aikido practitioner and Buddhist scholar, John Stevens was hosted as guest instructor. Stevens is a 7th degree black belt in aikido and a world renowned master instructor. He was a noted professor of Buddhist Studies at Tohoku Fukushi University, in Sendai, Japan and has written over 30 books on Aikido, Buddhism and Asian culture.

Akido of Hilo 2

Every year, aikido dojos around the world commemorate the passing of the Aikido Founder, Morihei Ueshiba, Osensei, which took place April 26, 1969. This year, practitioners from around the Big Island came to Hilo to practice aikido and learn some of the deeper philosophical teachings of the art. On the last day of the seminar, aikido students and the general public were treated to a class in Zenga (Zen brush art), taught by Stevens. “It’s an honor for us to receive instruction in Hilo from someone like Stevens Sensei,” said Aikido of Hilo student, Andrew Arakawa.

Developed early in the 20th century, aikido principles were so profound and its martial art techniques so effective that there was tremendous public demand.  In the 1950s, aikido teachings were made public and have spread to become popular worldwide.

“Aikido is an art of peace and reconciliation. It’s important to have teachers like Stevens Sensei reinforce principles that we can all practice in the dojo and our daily lives”, said Klein Sensei. For more information about aikido visit www.AikidoOfHilo.org or contact Barbara Klein Sensei at 935-2454.

 

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.

Budget1

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.

Budget2

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

Budget3

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

Commentary: Senator Josh Green – “Over $180 Million in Appropriations for West Hawaii Over the Next Two Fiscal Years”

Dear Friends,

I am pleased to report that this year the State Legislature has approved over $180 million in appropriations for West Hawai’i over the next two fiscal years to improve our region’s transportation, education, healthcare, and justice systems.

These important new investments in our community’s roads, schools, and hospitals will continue to create jobs, stimulate our economy, and build our community for years to come.

I am particularly pleased to report that this year the Legislature has made a strong commitment to complete the new Kona Judiciary Complex, a facility which represents a large state investment in the development of West Hawai’i and will house 230 full-time employees when it is completed. In 2011, the Legislature appropriated $12 million for land acquisition and design of the complex, and this year the Legislature approved an additional $9 million to begin construction with the intention of approving an additional $81 million to complete construction in the coming years.

This year the Legislature has also approved an additional $2.4 million to complete the construction of phase I of the new West Hawai’i Community College Campus at Palamanui, bringing the state investment in the new campus to $14.9 million, in addition to private investment of close to $20 million. This new campus will give our young people the option of pursuing higher education in West Hawai’i, and will serve as an educational resource for our entire community.

In addition, the Legislature has renewed the Hospital Sustainability Act, which will this year again bring more than $37 million in federal money to help strengthen and support hospitals in Hawai’i, including over $4 million to North Hawai’i Community Hospital on the Big Island.

Projects approved for West Hawai’i during the 2013 legislative session include:

  • Kona International Airport – $113.5 million for airport improvements including construction of the first phase of the terminal expansion program, design and construction of an international arrivals building, and extensive security improvements
  • Saddle Road Extension – $15.8 million for design of a new roadway extending the Saddle Road from the Hilo terminus to Queen Kaahumanu Highway, and land acquisition and construction of a road maintenance facility that includes maintenance and office structures
  • Puuanahulu Shooting Range Facility – $13 million for plans, design, and construction of the Puuanahulu Shooting Range Facility
  • NELHA Frontage Road – $9.7 million for construction of a frontage road and new connections to the Kaiminani Drive and Makako Bay Drive intersections on Queen Kaahumanu Highway
  • Kona Judiciary Complex – $9 million for plans, design, and construction of a new Judiciary Complex in Kona
  • Mamalahoa Highway – $6 million for construction of drainage improvements to Mamalahoa Highway in the vicinity of Puuwaawaa Ranch Road
  • Kona Community Hospital – $4 million for renovations and upgrades to Kona Community Hospital
  • Manuka Natural Area Reserve – $3.5 million for plans, design, and construction of a boundary fence at the Manuka Natural Area Preserve
  • West Hawai’i Community College at Palamanui – $2.4 million for design and construction of the completion of phase I of the new West Hawai’i Community College Campus
  • Kohala Community Hospital – $1 million for renovations and upgrades to Kohala Community Hospital
  • Kealakehe High School – $300,000 for design of upgrades to an all-weather and synthetic track at Kealakehe High School

Please join me at the West Hawai’i Community Forum on Tuesday, May 14 at 6:00 pm at the Main Pavilion of Maka’eo (Old Airport) Park, along with our other legislators from West Hawai’i. Come join us for pupus and beverages, talk story, and share your ideas and concerns with your representatives in state government.

As your State Senator, I will continue to work hard every day to improve our transportation, education, healthcare, and justice systems and make our roads, schools, and hospitals in West Hawai’i the best that they can be.

Let’s keep working together to achieve even greater results in the coming years, and to make West Hawai’i and our entire state an even better place to live.

Aloha,

Senator Josh Green

 

 

 
Josh Green, State Senator, District 3, West Hawai’i