Balancing Act

Mayor visits Molokai to discuss upcoming county budget.

By Dan Murphy

Maui County’s Mayor Charmaine Tavares urged citizens last week to think about what is most important for Molokai. Tavares and several other county officials visited the Friendly Isle to discuss the 2011 fiscal year budget.

Last Wednesday’s stop was the end of a month-long string of meetings across the county for the public to voice their priorities for the upcoming year’s budget. Tavares said the concerns were consistent around Maui Nui.

“All throughout the county, the message has been that our social services program – taking care of the most vulnerable in our community – should be the top priority. Some of the other bricks and mortar things can wait,” Tavares said.

The Maui Economic Opportunity (MEO) program was well supported at the meeting by folks of all ages and walks of life. MEO plays a vital role in the Molokai community by providing services from the Head Start program for toddlers to reliable transportation for senior citizens. Several people petitioned the county to continue its support of the program.

“A lot of us in Molokai try to take our experience, go back to the land and try to develop a way to generate in come for our families,” said Molokai resident Jimmy Duvauchelle. “I thank God that I had the opportunity to get into the MEO Business Program.”

Duvauchelle was one of several business owners that attributed their success to the MEO program at the meeting. Other social service businesses such as The Humane Society and Ka Hale Pomaika`i – Molokai’s only sober house for recovering adult addicts – were also well represented at the meeting.

A Few Surprises
Tavares said the Molokai public raised a few interesting issues that she has not previously heard about. Roxanne French, who lives in Molokai’s east end, asked the mayor to provide funds to connect the water systems between Kawela and Kamalo. She said the connection would help make it easier for citizens to build in that region and also protect against any future fires.

Lori Buchanan, a member of the Molokai Planning Commission, urged the county to build the new water line during the planned construction on the new Kawela Bridge.

“The valuation of that project is $7.4 million. It’s a small project in the scope of the Dept. of Transportation, but for Molokai it is a very large project,” Buchanan said.

Tavares said she had not previously heard about the bridge project, but believed it was a good opportunity to install a water line.

“It’s cheaper to put the waterline in while they’re building the bridge instead of trying to retrofit it in there afterwards,” she said. “Of course, this makes sense to look at. That was one surprise I really wanted to look at.”

She did say that if the project was to go, through it would mean taking funds away from another program since there is no extra spending money.

Surviving
While Maui County has been able to balance their budget in the past year and not lose any jobs, they are tightening their purse strings just like the rest of the world. The budget was cut 10 percent for the 2010 fiscal year and Tavares said she has asked each department to look for places to trim once again.

“We have asked them to look some more and see what programs we can cut back,” she said. “We all have to survive with a little bit less.”

Council Chair Danny Mateo, who was also present at last week’s meeting, said that survival has been a mantra of Molokai for a long time.

“This community needs to survive,” he said. “It’s going to be tough and, yeah, the choices are tough, but this island does not have a lot of choices. For us, the dependency on county government is important.”

Tavares said she and the other mayors of Hawaii have stood by their strong stance to use furloughs instead of layoffs or salary reduction. The budget is balanced through the end of June next year, but small furloughs might be necessary after that, according to Tavares.

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