‘This is the January 6, 2010 testimony before the Members of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and the Members of the House Committee on Finance at the Hawaii State Capitol in Honolulu.’
Aloha, Senator Kim, Representative Oshiro and distinguished members of the House Finance Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Thank you for this opportunity to appear before you to outline our priorities on issues important to the County of Hawai’i in 2010.
Despite the difficult fiscal situation in which we all find ourselves this year, we can accomplish much if we continue to pursue our objectives in a spirit of partnership and unity. Our constituents expect us to make a careful, thoughtful assessment of our situation, and to move forward together to make the difficult choices that these challenging times require. I look forward to working closely and collaboratively with all members of the House and Senate to achieve our goals.
All of the counties are coping with continuing reductions in property tax collections, the steep decline in the transient accommodations tax, and increases in fixed costs such as debt service and employee health insurance premiums. In the County of Hawai’i, we have worked to carefully reduce government spending through cuts in discretionary spending in all departments and a reduction in County employment through attrition.
We have undertaken a program of limited furloughs, and announced our plans for more widespread furloughs of public workers in the year ahead. We have had to make difficult decisions to balance our budget while doing all we can to shield those services that benefit the most disadvantaged among us, such as our free, island-wide bus service.
We also worked closely with U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye and our Congressional delegation to aggressively pursue funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. We expect the federal stimulus will inject more than $100 million into the County of Hawai’i economy for badly needed infrastructure and social service projects, and will be of great benefit to our struggling construction industry.
My administration is also doing its part to “prime the pump” with accelerated County construction spending, and we hope the State will continue to support our efforts in this regard.
The County at this moment has contracted for $106.2 million for new or ongoing construction, money that is in the works but has not yet been spent, and we will push county construction projects out as rapidly as possible.
Some of the County projects that are planned or ongoing include the West Hawai’i Civic Center for $56 million; the Makalei Fire Station in North Kona for $9 million; and the ongoing $28 million contract for workforce housing in Waikoloa.
We see some encouraging economic signs that demonstrate the brighter future ahead, and we have pursued initiatives to assist our main economic engine, which is the visitor industry. In particular we have worked to boost direct-flight airlift to the County of Hawai’i, and Alaska Airlines has added or is planning new routes from Oakland and San Jose to Kona that will add 56,000 additional seats per year to the capacity serving our County.
To help us navigate this difficult economic environment, we are once again asking for the Legislature’s assistance with programs to support our youth, and to launch some projects that can be quickly implemented to create jobs and help our local economy.
”Safe Haven After School Program, $600,000”
Our island lacks positive educational and recreational activities for our youth in the after school and evening hours, and our families and youth are under increasing stress during this challenging economic period. Our schools can be a positive place for our kids beyond the traditional school day, and the state Department of Education has expressed willingness to partner with the County to establish safe, structured and supervised after-school learning environments for our youth as a pilot program. We ask for your support for the Safe Haven After School Program because it would offer our youth alternatives to gangs and drugs, and would improve our communities’ health and safety.
”Big Island Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center, $1.6 million”
This initiative by the Hawai’i County Prosecutor proposes to provide a single point of entry for intake, assessment and case management of delinquent and at-risk youth. Start-up funding is requested for a pilot site in Pahoa to serve about 40 youth per month over the next two years. Today our police officers often have no good options when dealing with arrested juveniles who need supervision, but cannot go home, and who do not need secure custody. Existing programs may not accept youth who are disruptive or are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but effectively intervening and providing services to these at-risk youth can keep them from graduating into the adult correctional system. This program will save the State money in the long run.
”Empowering County Ethics Enforcement”
We also ask for the Legislature’s assistance in amending certain sections of State law that have made it difficult or impossible for Board of Ethics at the City and County levels to impose administrative fines. Empowering these boards to impose fines for ethical violations will boost public confidence in City and County government, and is a common-sense initiative that has been endorsed by the Hawai’i County Council, the Hawai’i County Board of Ethics and other public and private organizations across our state.
”Kona Community Hospital Emergency Room, $10 million”
(Hawaii Health Systems Corporation)
The Kona Community Hospital Emergency Room was built to accommodate 10,000 patient visits per year, and is now seeing more than 18,000 visits per year. The emergency department needs to be expanded and modernized to improve patient access, flow and privacy to provide for a better working environment for staff, and the County supports HHSC’s efforts to make this essential improvement.
We continue to seek your support for the efforts of the University of Hawai’i at Hilo and our community college system to grow as part of a larger strategy to use higher education as an economic engine. In 2008, UH Hilo alone accounted for $150.3 million in direct expenditures, and the university is now the second largest employer in East Hawai’i. We ask for your support as we seek to position UHH for continued growth, and once again urge the Legislature to champion State plans for the long-awaited permanent community college site in West Hawai’i.
”Kapiolani Street Extension, $6.8 million”
This project will lay the groundwork for a new era of growth with UH Hilo by providing a connector road that will open up nearly 55 acres on land in urban Hilo for development of badly needed student housing. The single largest impediment to growth for UH Hilo is a lack of housing for out-of-state and local students, and yet the university owns land next to campus where this housing can be built. The Kapiolani Street extension will provide access to these lands while also providing a new two-lane transportation corridor that will ease traffic congestion.
”University-Area Water Infrastructure Improvements, $4 million”
The long-term growth of UH Hilo also depends on access to adequate water supply for facilities and for fire protection needs. The Department of Water Supply warns the University that future development of facilities such as student housing, astronomy projects in the University Research Park and the Hawaiian Language College cannot proceed until the water infrastructure is upgraded. This project will provide a well, pump and transmission lines mauka of the University to serve both the campus and new development in the surrounding community.
”North Kona Well, $1.3 million”
The County also supports efforts by the Department of Water Supply to improve the quality and reliability of the North Kona water system by constructing a new well. This is part of a much larger effort to shift from low-level water sources to higher elevation sources, and to this end the Department of Water Supply has already allocated nearly $30 million for water system improvements in the region. There is additional urgency today because affordable housing developments — one of the greatest needs of the State and Kona