REPRESENTING BUSINESS WITH GOVERNMENT—Mayor Harry Kim offered the West Hawai‘i business community words of appreciation and commendation as well as a solid “yes” in support of the Thirty Meter Telescope during the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce’s March 2 luncheon featuring the mayor and his cabinet.
Kim commended the more than 260 business people gathered at the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa on the unity of the community and their participation in resolving issues – including the question surrounding the Keauhou aquifer and supporting projects like the construction of the Ane Keohokalole Highway.
Without the business community’s participation in hearings and public meetings on the designation of the Keauhou aquifer as a water management district and in the Community Development Plan process, those projects may not have had a positive outcome, Kim remarked, adding that good solid reasoning and factual information offered at these meetings by the business community were key.
The growth of Kona has been fantastic, Kim said, looking back over the last decade. However, he also acknowledged infrastructure has not kept pace with growth and Kona needs to catch up. He pledged his support to doing all that he can to move forward with projects like the last phase of Ane Keohokalole Highway.
“It’s the responsibility of the government to make sure the infrastructure is in place to support economic development,” said Kim. “But, government needs the participation and support of the community to bring projects to fruition.” He asked for West Hawai‘i’s support as he moves forward to address island priorities.
Kim is currently anticipating a deficit in the upcoming budget and has asked departments twice to reduce their budgets. He’s already removed items from the upcoming budget – an example being the discretionary dollars for each County Councilperson – and is still about $12 million short. That being said, Kim is still holding off on any increase to real property tax rate – calling that move a “last resort.”
“How can we expect to raise taxes for people who can’t even pay their monthly bills?” he asked.
The mayor is hoping part of the shortfall will be met by an increase in the County’s share of the transient accommodations tax. A measure introduced by State Sen. Kai Kahele in the Legislature would give the County around an additional $9 million – if passed and signed into law. The mayor asked the business community to contact their legislators to voice support for this measure – SB1290 SD2.
When asked to name his priorities, the mayor’s short list addressed, in addition to the budget:
Kim said it is the County’s responsibility to make the County a nice place to live and do business. He believes if everyone would focus on solving the homelessness issue, this would help to meet that goal. The County of Hawai‘i, Kim said, has been identified by the state as being the highest per capita for homeless individuals and families. Kim has assigned his Housing department to put together a picture of programs at the state/county/federal/private levels. He is committed to working with the major players to identify the problems, enforce the rules and regulations, and clean up the homeless camps.
On the issue of healthcare and whether the County would be willing to take on the management of hospitals, Kim said, with the amount allocated right now to the operation of the hospitals, he would say “no.” The public’s involvement and support will be critical to creating a better health system, one not so dependent on the state government’s operation of island hospitals.
The mayor sees wastewater as one of the infrastructure issues he is committed to solving, along with highways and park maintenance. Kim said he does not anticipate spending much money on new parks. Not a high priority, he says, with the County’s limited resources.
Kim didn’t wait for the question and answer session to address the issue of Mauna Kea and the Thirty Meter Telescope. He discussed the importance of the mountain and Hawaiian culture, calling Mauna Kea “a special gift to the world.” The mountain, he said, “should be an international monument for the world as it stands for a quest for knowledge.” It symbolizes, Kim said, mankind working together and he has asked the five countries involved in the TMT project to help make the entire mountain a park that stands for peace on earth and goodwill towards men.
When asked bluntly whether he supports TMT, the mayor gave a one-word answer, “yes.”
The County will be looking into waste to energy programs, expanding the Hele-on Bus program and perhaps bringing back the “free ride” program, which the Mayor said, would support certain income levels. This, he warns may mean asking for a higher fuel tax.
Though the mayor was joined on the stage by Frank DeMarco, director of Public Works; Police Chief Paul Ferreira; Neil Gyotoku, Housing administrator, Parks Director Chairmaine Kamaka; Planning Director Michael Yee and Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski, he fielded the majority of the questions. More than 30 members of the County’s administration were present at the lunch to meet and chat with the business community.
The luncheon was sponsored by Hawaii Community Federal Credit Union, Hawaii Water Service Company and Pacific Media Group.
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