County council update

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THE COUNTY BUDGET: On June 2, the Hawaii County Council passed the mayor’s budget of more than $416 million. Regrettably, the Council’s intent to reduce property taxes was frustrated by a number of factors, including the recent employee raises amounting to more than $20 million that were largely negotiated by state representatives.

Additionally, state legislators ignored their previous promise to remove the “temporary” cap limiting the counties’ portion of the transient accommodation tax revenues. It is, however, my hope that a downward adjustment in property taxes can be accomplished following the upcoming revisions in our County’s real property tax program, now being worked on by the Council’s Real Property Tax Task Force, on which I am one of two council members.

With respect to the mayor’s Capital Improvement Project list, I proposed two amendments, both passed by the Hawaii County Council to relist important projects that were otherwise being allowed to lapse — Waikoloa’s community building/emergency center project and a districtwide traffic calming road improvements project.

DISTRICT 9 CONTINGENCY FUNDS: On June 4, my final allocation of District 9 contingency funds passed the Council in the amount of $35,000, which funding should enable the North Kohala community to complete the second phase of its skate park. I also made available contingency funds for other County parks needs in Waikoloa, Kawaihae, and North Kohala, as well as for fire boots for District 9 volunteer firemen, for a Community Emergency Response Team headquarters at Spencer House in Waimea, and for a large assortment of CERT equipment.

Additionally, contingency funds were approved for Hawaiian Homelands communitywide projects — to the Waimea Nui Agricultural Park that will make farm lots available to members of the greater Waimea community, and to Kailapa’s Kawaihae community building project.

UPCOMING MATTERS OF IMPORTANCE: On June 17, my “solid waste” resolution will come before the Council’s Committee on Agriculture, Water, Energy, Sustainability. At this time, Mayor Kenoi appears to be most supportive of “mass burn” waste-to-energy proposals. Yet many residents in North and South Kohala have voiced concern about that direction and want to be sure that whatever solid waste contract is accepted is consistent with our County’s Zero Waste goals, and that we are maximizing our compostables. Compostables are the portion of our solid waste that is able to be composted – in order to provide valuable compost to our farms, landscapers, and homeowners.

Compostables includes more than just green waste, and most importantly includes our high value food waste. More than 40 percent of our food is discarded, and about 95 percent of that discarded food waste ends up in the landfill. The question we must now ask ourselves is whether to divert valuable organics to a mass burn operation or maximize the return of organics/compost back to our soil needy agricultural lands.

When the mayor last spoke to the Council about Hawaii County’s solid waste options, my impression was the administration would entertain a wide gamut of proposals, including those emphasizing compostables. Unfortunately, the detailed criteria in Mayor Kenoi’s Request for Proposals was more restrictive, such that at least two eco-focused solid waste proposals were deemed ineligible. For these reasons, and considering that these decisions will determine the direction we take over the next 20-30 or more years and will likely involve costs exceeding 100 million dollars, I favor a deliberative, informed discussion, not just among members of the Kenoi administration and the Council, but also among all interested island residents.

Are you willing to be part of this important conversation? If so, please come testify on June 17 in person in Kona at the Council meeting, or by video conferencing at my council office in Waimea or at the new videoconferencing site in the old Bank of Hawaii building in Kapaau. Call my office for a copy of my “solid waste” resolution and check on the time scheduled for public testimony on June 17.

Margaret Wille is councilwoman for Hawaii County Council District 9, North and South Kohala. To reach Wille, call 887-2043 or email mwille@co.hawaii.hi.us.