County Council Update
Aloha everyone. I wanted to bring you up to speed on several ongoing happenings in our communities:
County budget for fiscal year 2017-2018:
I am sure everyone by now is well aware of the financial concerns our County is facing. The final numbers are not quite in yet, but as I understand our County is now facing a budget shortfall of somewhere between $14-$17 million. Our expenses have increased some with the new employee contracts and the funding liability needed for the pension plans, but the larger concern is the County not receiving its share of the TAT (transient accommodation tax). This is a tax that is collected in our hotels &resorts; mostly paid by our visitors.
As the TAT was originally set up, we should be receiving approximately more than $32 million annually. During the financial crisis starting around 2008, the counties willingly gave back approximately 50 percent to help the State of Hawaii with their shortfall. The understanding was that once we were through the crisis, the allocations would go back to the original amounts. That has never happened. Even worse, currently the State is considering cutting the County portion to even less.
The whole reason the TAT was put in place was to help fund the impact of our tourism guests visiting our islands. Their impact on our infrastructure: parks, beaches, roadways, etc. was to in part be supported by this funding. Our counties have had to “make do” as what was promised has not been delivered.
By rough estimate, we have been missing more than $16 million dollars from our State appropriations. For this next coming year alone, that would balance our budget. The solution short term is unfortunately more budget cuts. Long-term, what would help is receiving the original portion of the TAT, but the true solution is an economic growth. Our County needs a dynamic economy that affords us the resources to take care of our island community.
Banyan trees near the old Bank of Hawaii in Kapaau:
As many of you realize, the large banyan trees near the King Kamehameha statue pose a potential problem. If during times of storm/emergencies any of those trees come down, some of our citizens will be trapped. As important, some of our first responders will be unable to get out and help our community. The police, fire department and ambulances would be trapped at their stations.
I have been in contact with Director Charmaine Kamaka of Parks and Recreation on this matter. One of the best arborist in the State is being brought in to evaluate the trees and make a recommendation on what is best for all concerned. Once this recommendation has been received, the community will be made aware of what the plans will be.
The extension of the Daniel K. Inouye Highway from Saddle Road to Queen Kaahumanu Hwy. Timeline:
The EIS for this road extension has been released and is available at this link:
The comment period is currently open and all comments must be received by June 7. There will be a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. May 17 at the Waikoloa Elementary and Middle School cafeteria. The final route has not been determined yet as public comment is still being received. If you have an opinion, please voice it.