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Never too soon to say thank you

<p>A standing-room-only crowd turned out for the Waimea Community Association Town Meeting on July 11. (PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

A standing-room-only crowd turned out for the Waimea Community Association Town Meeting on July 11. (PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON| SPECIAL TO NHN)

<p>Mayor Billy Kenoi speaks at the WCA Town meeting on July 11. (PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

Mayor Billy Kenoi speaks at the WCA Town meeting on July 11. (PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON| SPECIAL TO NHN)

<p>Members of the WCA board arranged for a special potluck dinner after the WCA meeting to honor island firefighters, police officers, rescue workers and other emergency responders for their service in the community. (PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

Members of the WCA board arranged for a special potluck dinner after the WCA meeting to honor island firefighters, police officers, rescue workers and other emergency responders for their service in the community. (PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON| SPECIAL TO NHN)

<p>Emergency first responders were honored with a cake at the event at the potluck dinner following the event. (PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

Emergency first responders were honored with a cake at the event at the potluck dinner following the event. (PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON| SPECIAL TO NHN)

<p>Major Mitchell Kanehailua and Captain Aimee Wana participated in the WCA mahalo dinner for emergency responders. (PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

Major Mitchell Kanehailua and Captain Aimee Wana participated in the WCA mahalo dinner for emergency responders. (PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON| SPECIAL TO NHN)

<p>Emergency responders are offered a “to go” container by Leiomalama Solomon of Beamer Solomon Halau O Poohala, while Kumu Hulali Solomon Covington serves dinner. (PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

Emergency responders are offered a “to go” container by Leiomalama Solomon of Beamer Solomon Halau O Poohala, while Kumu Hulali Solomon Covington serves dinner. (PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON| SPECIAL TO NHN)

A standing-room-only crowd filled Waimea School cafeteria for the monthly Waimea Community Association meeting July 11, where members of the Waimea Community Association board and the community paid special tribute to island firefighters, police officers, rescue workers and other emergency responders.

At the meeting’s conclusion, WCA President Sherm Warner, inspired by the recent loss of 19 Arizona firefighters, shared his poignant experience of Sept. 11 and invited all to take a moment to express their gratitude to the brave crews who risk their lives for others.

“It’s never too soon to say thank you,” said Warner.

Humbly, uniformed workers stepped forward to be first in line for a potluck dinner provided by the community, including chili from Beamer Solomon Halau O Poohala, rice from Waimea Middle School, fresh salad from Kekela Farms, a large cake from KTA and Tropical Dreams Ice cream with Starbucks coffee.

The meal was rewarding after an informative meeting with a full agenda. Included in the schedule was an update on the historic Spencer House project, a presentation from the Big Island Invasive Species Committee, and an overview of community priorities and issues with Mayor Billy Kenoi and his new cabinet members who helped field questions from the audience.

With his usual aplomb, Kenoi covered a lot of territory in the 70 minutes allotted. He introduced dozens of cabinet members from all departments, including Deputy Managing Director Wally K.M. Lau, who he referred to as “the first mayor from West Hawaii” because he helped the mayor by filling in for him when he went on a family trip to Japan.

“The buck stops with me,” said Kenoi, “but when something good happens, it’s because of the hard work of the cabinet.”

Reviewing the county budget, Kenoi explained that when he took office in 2008, the budget was $403 million. Since then it was cut to $365 million and, with the recent property tax increase, now stands at $394 million. The county workforce has been reduced by 200 jobs, however 17 new employees are in the current budget, which also includes $1.6 million for improvements to transit and information technology.

“What we want to do is reduce lines at offices,” said Kenoi. “Every department benefits with better IT.”

For transit, additional bus mechanics will be hired to bolster the county’s present staff of three, all in the Hilo baseyard. And, five new police officers have been added to the fast-growing Puna District. Funding was also allotted for new lifeguards, fire equipment, a new recruit class of firefighters, and in recreation, for gyms, parks, pools and elder services.

“We had to make some tough decisions, but the budget is still less than when we took office,” said Kenoi. “I asked the department heads … let’s do the best we can. Let’s work better, smarter than we have the last four years.”

“Our job is not to say ‘no can’ all the time,” said Kenoi. “Our job is to say ‘can’ and work to make that happen.”

On the “can” list, the coqui frog issue is still active, despite recent cuts in state appropriations for invasive species control. Department of Research and Development Deputy Director Lavern Omori reported that a bulk purchase of citric acid, to eradicate the frogs, is 880 bags at a cost of $60,000, which includes a high tariff on shipment from China. She said the county is working with federal staff to obtain an exemption on the tariff.

When Councilwoman Margaret Wille asked about plans for the Waimea District Park, the mayor joked with her saying, “Wait, Margaret. Let us hear from the community. I talk to you all week.”

Planning for the park proceeds forward, with $5 million poised for release by the governor, potentially in mid-August, according to Department of Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Clayton Honma, who said the first phase could be completed within three years, at the mayor’s urging to project a time.

Bob Fitzgerald, director of the County Department of Parks and Recreation, addressed questions about the Waianuenue Park’s deteriorating condition.

“It’s a great design; it’s a community-build with a lot of aloha,” said Fitzgerald, who explained that the wooden materials used were subject to weather damage, and that more modern materials have been developed for use in outdoor recreation facilities. A community meeting will decide whether to repair or replace the existing structures. Meanwhile, critical repairs to restrooms and other areas will be addressed.

At the end of the meeting, the mayor refocused on gratitude. “We are here to say thank you to the people who keep us safe, and allow us and our children to sleep at night.”

WCA meets monthly on the second Thursday at 5:15 p.m. in the Waimea School cafeteria. For more information, please visit www.waimeatown.org or call Warner at 885-1725.