State of the County Address
The following is Mayor Alan Arakawa’s state of the county address, which he delivered February 20 at the Baldwin High School Auditorium at 5 p.m. Check back soon for some comments from Mayor Arakawa about Molokai specifically.
Aloha and good evening.
Please join me in giving Mr. Dean Wong a round of applause. He had some large shoes to fill in taking over emcee duties this year and he’s done a fine job.
Our last two State of the County events were emceed by the late
Martin Luna, a friend to this administration and our community.
Of course it is impossible not to think of Martin now as we begin tonight. At this time if you will join me in a moment of silence as we remember our dear friend.
We have many, many things to discuss today, and I am glad to see so many elected officials, community leaders and members of the public here. We specifically held this event in the evening so working families could attend, and I’m glad you were able to join us.
First let me start out by saying this: The State of our County is GOOD.
While it is not the best that it has ever been, it is definitely much better than it was a few years ago. But don’t take my word for it. There are plenty of other people out there saying the same thing.
Talk to the economists who say that Maui County’s economy is the strongest among the neighbor islands.
Ask the leaders of our visitor industry about our tourism numbers.
Those numbers are up in almost every category, including the number of hotel rooms being booked, how long visitors are staying and how much they are spending here.
Look up the unemployment numbers at the State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations and you will see that our unemployment numbers are the lowest they have been in four years.
In fact Lanai’s rate of unemployment – at 1.5 percent – is currently the lowest in the state.
Check out our bond rating with Standard & Poor’s. You will find that for the first time in Maui County history we received just below a Triple A rating, the best bond rating in the state currently.
This rating is the equivalent of the county’s credit score, which allows us to borrow money for projects and pay it back at much lower interest rates.
Essentially this bond rating will save you, the taxpayer, tens of millions of dollars.
We are definitely in a better place than we were before, all of it because we have people in this community that never gave up.
There are businesses that evolved with the economy, and refused to shut their doors. They kept people employed even though it cost them their bottom line.
We have workers who went back to school and reinvented themselves for the workforce. They took on new jobs and new careers and sometimes earned minimum wage just to feed their families.
We have county workers who made sure we could track every dime of taxpayer money and departments that continually looked for new ways to become more efficient.
And we have Maui County Council members who rose up to the challenge when we asked them to “be bold”, and to support the initiatives that would help foster economic recovery.
They did so, and because of that today we are seeing favorable results.
If you need proof just take a trip to Wailuku and drive past the old post office site.
We have demolished that old building, which was an awful mess of mold, asbestos, bad plumbing and electrical problems.
In its place we would like to build – with the cooperation of our Maui County Council members – new county offices that will help consolidate our services for the public.
These offices would also enable us to move most of our departments out of One Main Plaza, where we pay exactly 1 million, 581 thousand, six hundred and one dollars and 45 cents in rent annually.
Cutting down on our rent is a major priority for the county. Including our bill at One Main Plaza, last year we paid a total of almost four million dollars in lease fees.
In addition we have 260 county employees who are on a waiting list for parking stalls, and they struggle daily to find adequate parking on the streets of Wailuku.
Many are forced to leave their desk every two hours in order to move their vehicle so they can avoid getting a ticket.
That’s a lot of time wasted, time which could have been spent on county business and assisting members of the public.
So this one project will allow us to operate more efficiently, save taxpayers millions in rent money and free up valuable street parking for Wailuku residents and businesses.
This also sends a strong message that our County government is here to serve you, the public, intelligently – in ways that will benefit our community not just in the short run but for generations to come.
We have another project in the works that will not just help the county run more efficiently but will literally reduce waste.
After all, we do live on an island. Eventually we will run out of space if our landfill keeps expanding.
That is why our Waste-to-Energy proposal will take our trash and turn it into an asset we can use, instead of just taking up space in the Central Maui Landfill.
Right now we are looking at two options, both of which remove valuable recyclables from our refuse.
One option takes our trash and turns it into firm, renewable energy. The other takes our waste and produces a clean bio-fuel.
Our Department of Environmental Management has begun reviewing these proposals from private companies which will pay for building and maintaining this waste-to-energy facility.
We structured it this way to minimize risk for our taxpayers. Currently we are evaluating 20 formal proposals for this new technology.
Again, if we can do this we will be able to reduce waste going into our landfill and provide a source of either renewable energy or produce a bio-fuel that can be sold to any number of companies.
This is a win-win scenario for us all, and we look forward to working with Maui Electric Company and our Maui County Council members on this project.
Renewable energy in all of its forms is good for Maui County. Our electric bills are about four times higher than anywhere else in the nation.
On a personal note, my own residential bill used to be well over 300 dollars. But thanks to the PV panels we installed my bill last month was a little more than 18 dollars.
Turns out my wife was right again. Ann told me to put those PV panels up and I didn’t want to listen at first.
But you can’t argue with the numbers. The savings are real, and this community needs to take advantage of our natural resources so we can get rid of fossil fuels and become 100 percent renewable.
We are always looking for ways to save money, but sometimes operating more efficiently means you have to spend more money. At least at first.
Take our road maintenance plan for example.
Until now, we were on a 40-to 50-year cycle to repair every mile of the 960 lane miles that make up our County roads.
Unfortunately it doesn’t take that long for our roads to go bad, especially with heavy use and adverse weather conditions. Just last year our Public Works Highways Division crews filled more than 10,000 pot holes.
And those were the quick patch jobs. Other roads were in much worse shape.
So we are shifting gears toward a 20-year cycle of repair and repaving instead to match our average road life, and employing new technology to extend the life of our roads.
Many thanks go out to our Highways work crews for showing us there was a better way to pave our roads.
They took it upon themselves to obtain old paving equipment from Honolulu to demonstrate that the county can repave the smaller roads itself and save the bigger jobs for contractors, saving us time and money.
It is because of these employees’ efforts that the County has purchased equipment that lays down a protective seal on our roads so that they last longer. This is similar to the type of seal you would place on your own driveway.
This seal coating will not help those roads that need to be completely repaved, but in cases where wear-and-tear is beginning to appear, the coating will protect the pavement and give the road a longer life- span.
In the meantime we can concentrate our efforts on roads that need a completely new facelift.
The same goes for our water system, we must continually invest in it in order to improve and maintain this valuable resource.
Like our upgraded road maintenance plan, these investments in our water system will have immediate benefits, and long-term ones as well.
Our upgrades at the Piiholo water treatment plant means we can improve water quality by removing organic carbon.
By fixing the Waikamoi flume we will stop constant leaks and increase the volume of our water supply.
In West and Central Maui we are drilling new wells to improve the reliability of our water system.
There are more improvements that we need to make, and for that reason we are asking the council to approve a five percent across the board rate hike in water fees.
Please remember that our current water system was put into service more than 80 years ago. These are repairs and upgrades that have been long overdue and it will be another decade of work just to catch up.
But with the help of our council members, we can catch up. It was our council members, both past and present, who had the foresight to approve the funding for these projects and we will need their help again and again as we work to bring our system into the 21st century.
I would also like to thank our team at the Department of Water Supply for carefully analyzing the data and identifying a plan of action that has actually been put into action.
And it is because of these on-going improvements to our system that the county is poised to finally offer water meters to those on our Upcountry meter list.
In many cases, these meters will enable families to finally be able to subdivide their property, and pass on land to their children. Some parents have passed on with this situation still unresolved, and for that we are sorry.
This issue should have been resolved long ago, but what should have been an engineering problem turned into a political one.
But the solution has presented itself, and once again it comes down to money.
The water meters are there if people can pay for them. Unfortunately the costs have doubled, in most cases from three thousand dollars per meter to six thousand dollars.
These are the real costs of installation at today’s prices.
Sometimes being efficient means admitting that you can’t do everything for everyone.
But the things that you can do, you try to do as well as possible.
The County’s permitting process is a good example. In the past many residents and businesses have expressed frustration that the process was tedious and confusing.
Knowing this we have tried to improve things, by updating certain County building codes and increasing opportunities for the public to learn more about our systems at our Permitting Open House events.
These events bring together staff from all of our departments that handle permits, including Water, Fire, Public Works, Planning and Environmental Management, all in one room for a day.
Applicants who attended these open house events said permitting issues that they had been dealing with for months, they answered that same day. In response I am happy to announce that we will be scheduling more of these Permitting Open House events in the near future, maybe as soon as this spring.
We even received a public pat on the back from one of our state senators, who said that Maui County’s permitting process was so improved that it was the state’s turn to try and catch up.
Mahalo for the compliment Senator Kalani English, and mahalo to all the men and women of our various county departments who worked very hard to improve the system for everyone.
We have also been getting compliments on the Maui Bus system, which remains the fastest growing public transit system in the nation. Last year more than 2.7 million people rode the Maui Bus, many of whom depend on it to get to work, school, go shopping or even just go to the beach.
And as the ridership increases, so does the Maui Bus service. In response to the community we expanded our routes to include the Kula area earlier this year.
More importantly, we have finally added some bus shelters. In the past people waited upon wooden benches that riders provided on their own, usually from their homes and yards.
We have eight shelters built now, and plan on putting up a total of 20 shelters county-wide. This sounds like a small thing but not if you have ever had to stand in the hot sun while waiting for the bus.
These bus shelters were needed, just as more dog parks are needed.
We are opening up Central Maui’s first leash-free dog park at Keopuolani Park next month. Community volunteers broke ground on another dog park Upcountry and it is my hope that dog owners start using all of our dog parks regularly.
Too often we hear about dogs running free on our beaches and hiking trails, sometimes resulting in unleashed dogs biting residents and other pets.
So please, use these parks to let your dogs run freely. Otherwise let’s keep our neighborhoods safe by keeping our dogs on a leash.
These dog parks and bus shelters are good investments, and will be used for years to come, just as many of our county facilities are well used, including our community centers, ball fields and swimming pools.
Sometimes though, the costs to maintain an aging facility become more expensive than upgrading to a new facility. Case in point, the Coach Soichi Sakamoto Pool.
The pool has been closed due to repairs for two years now, because the costs for a long-term fix would be almost as much as building a new pool.
But until we can figure out what to do we have decided to make a temporary patch and reopen the pool later this year.
At some point we must build a new facility, a Central Maui Aquatics Center which can serve our community as well as Sakamoto Pool has done all of these years. To our council members, we are open to discussion on this issue and welcome your opinions.
But please, we must build a new facility before repairs at Sakamoto Pool are needed once again. Age has turned our beloved pool into a money pit and we cannot afford to keep throwing taxpayer dollars away like this.
Our communities need pools, just as they need parks.
We hope to break ground on the first phase of an important park later this year, the first phase of the Central Maui Regional Park Complex.
We have been working with Lieutenant Governor Shan Tsutsui, who is in the process of obtaining 60 acres of parkland in Central Maui.
This land will eventually be turned over to the county and, combined with the more than 200 acres the County is also acquiring, will provide more Central Maui park space than ever before.
We also want to build more parks on the West Side, which is why we have included an amendment to this fiscal year’s budget to buy a portion of coastland from Pali to Puamana, our proposed beach parkway project.
This park will enable us to preserve valuable coastline areas, which will help reduce shoreline erosion and preserve park and open space areas in West Maui. This project will run in conjunction with the long awaited Lahaina Bypass, which is currently under construction by the state.
We look forward to working with the state on this project as well, and on the new Kihei High School. We thank the governor for the land that was purchased last year for the high school and for including design and construction money in this year’s State budget.
I would also like to congratulate the Maui Visitors Bureau for making important inroads to bring more Asian visitors here.
Our hotels and resorts are reporting more South Korean guests than ever before, a good indication that the relationships we started building two years ago are now bearing fruit.
MVB Executive Director Terryl Vencyl should be commended for her efforts in expanding Maui’s exposure to the growing Asian market and for educating foreign travel agents about Maui. It was not too long ago that we paid a visit to travel agents in South Korea and discovered that none of them knew the difference between Molokai and Molokini.
In other words, we have come a long way in our marketing to Asia and it shows. Our visitor numbers are already strong but by focusing on this new market they can be even stronger.
While MVB courts the Asian visitors, the county will continue to develop our ongoing business relationships with growing economies like South Korea, China and Taiwan.
We have already seen some interest locally. One of the companies that inquired about our Waste-to-Energy project here was from South Korea.
These business relationships are being sought after by all levels of government, including the White House. In his State of the Union address the President talked about a “Trans-Pacific Partnership” with the “growing markets of Asia.”
Since Hawaii is so close to Asia it is our duty to seek out these international opportunities, which may result in better jobs and a stronger economy for all of us.
In fact I just met someone yesterday who very much believes that
Maui County can be a major player on the international level.
We met Larry Ellison for the first time, face-to-face, off the coast of Lanai. There he invited us on to his yacht to discuss his intentions for the island.
It was during that discussion that I realized that Mr. Ellison’s goals and Maui County’s goals have a lot in common.
Like us he is committed to developing clean renewable sources of energy for the community, wants to strengthen the visitor industry and improve local infrastructure and the overall quality of life for the people there.
He has some big plans in the works. He wants to build a state of the art desalinization plant, not just to provide water for the community but to also serve as a state of the art laboratory that develops computerized drip-control systems.
Using this technology he wants to take that water and irrigate organic farms throughout the island that will grow local produce and flowers. He believes as we do that there is a market in Asia, especially, for our local fruits.
It turns out Larry Ellison is a big fan of mangoes.
He wants to build other things, like a movie theater and a bowling alley with an old fashioned ice cream parlor, just because he thinks it will make the community happy.
He says he likes making the people of Lanai happy, because it is quote, “the best feeling in the world.”
This is something to which I can relate. There is no other feeling in the world like helping your neighbor solve a problem or helping your community meet a challenge.
For that reason I hope that our community can come together and help one of our local construction companies to keep from laying off 100 workers.
I know there is a portion of our community that is upset with the Eclipse Development group for not listening to their concerns, just as there is another portion of our community upset that their family members and friends are now laid off because this project has been delayed.
Although the County believes that the proposed Eclipse project is in compliance with applicable state and county land use designations, they fell short of the Land Use Commission’s interpretation of the law.
They can go in and file for a modification to their plans but that will take months, and in the meantime our friends and neighbors are out of work.
I’m not sure what can be done at this point, but we should work together to save these jobs, as well as the estimated 1,800 long-term jobs that this development would have brought to Maui.
We can do this if we do it together. Our community has been at odds before, but in the end we always come together.
We have to. This is not Congress and we do not have the luxury of endless debate and legislative gridlock.
This is the County of Maui. Everyday we must respond to the needs of the people. Our employees pick up trash, balance the budget and patrol the streets.
We get the job done every day because we have to. If we don’t, life comes to a grinding halt for everybody.
We do our job so that everyone can go about their business. Our residents would and should expect no less from us.
So let us continue to work together, all of us, communities, businesses, residents, unions and government.
Together we can get things done.
Let us continue to improve the State of this County now and always. Today things are good. Tomorrow, let’s make them even better.
Once again I thank you for allowing me to serve you and for helping to make Maui County the greatest community in the world.
Aloha and God bless.
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