By Léo Azambuja
Taking off on a theme celebrating the “bounty of our island home,” Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. delivered his sixth State of the County address before a large crowd at the Mo‘ikeha Building’s rotunda Monday morning.
“I look forward to this time of the year, when we can come together as a community and celebrate the truly wonderful things that are happening right here,” said Carvalho, adding it was also a time to think “seriously” about our challenges.
“Most of all, it’s a time to commit to working together to make things better for everyone here on Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau,” he said, to which the crowd reacted with applause.
Sporting a bright green aloha shirt in accordance with St. Patrick’s Day, Carvalho said that last year, the administration focused on core functions such as park and road maintenance. This year, it “will be more of the same,” Carvalho said.
Throughout his address, Carvalho highlighted the administration’s accomplishments in green initiatives since he first took office in a special election in 2008, filling the vacancy left by Mayor Bryan Baptiste’s death halfway through his term.
But before Carvalho spelled out the goods, he said he wanted to “get the bad news out of the way” first — the cost of government has gone up.
The “simple reality,” he said, is that revenues are shrinking and expenses are rising.
Payroll accounts for two-thirds of the administration’s operating expenses, and collective bargaining will drive this cost over time. Collective bargaining cost the county an additional $3.3 million this year, and next year it will cost another $4 million, he said.
In order to keep the same level of services for Fiscal Year 2015, which starts July 1, Carvalho said he is proposing a budget that does four “simple things:”
- It calls for more spending in areas where it is absolutely necessary;
- Reduces spending in areas that have room for cuts;
- Asks for additional revenues in justifiable targeted areas; and
- Creates opportunities for savings now and into the future.
Last year, the Kaua‘i County Council approved a string of tax hikes and fee increases proposed by Carvalho, while the administration trimmed millions of dollars from their operating expenses by dollar-funding positions and budgeting closer to the previous year’s actual spending. The administration also delayed new hires and some capital improvements last year.
All these measures combined put the budget back into balance, Carvalho said.
“But we are not yet at the end game,” he said. “To put it in football terms; we’re now on the 10-yard line and we must push just a little harder in order to get to the end zone.”
For FY 2015, Carvalho is bringing back to the council two fee-increase proposals that the council voted down last year. One is the increase in commercial solid-waste tipping fees and the other is an increase in the county vehicle weight tax, though it would still be bellow the state’s average.
Additionally, the administration is asking the council to increase renewal fees for Transient Vacation Rentals and raise property tax rates for hotels and resorts.
Some cost-saving measures include filling vacancies in the Kaua‘i Police Department, thus avoiding overtime, and creating a litigation team at the County Attorney’s Office, which would reduce the use of outside counsel in lawsuits against the county.
But the biggest focus to reduce costs will be on payroll, according to Carvalho. Every vacancy will be scrutinized to determine whether to let the position go unfilled and to see if the job can be done within the department or shared among other county agencies, he said.
Carvalho also talked about creating a carpool among county departments as the administration’s fleet ages.
And one of the biggest opportunities to save money is in energy conservation, he said.
Thanks to the county’s sustainability team, facilities are being retrofitted with energy-tracking software, streetlights are being replaced with LED systems, and there is a proposal to utilize methane gas at Kekaha Landfill to fuel the Kaua‘i Bus fleet and the county’s heavy equipment.
Some of the accomplishments highlighted by Carvalho include the doubling of the bus ridership since 2008, and the upcoming construction of 49 bus shelters.
He also said the county now recycles 43 percent of the island’s trash, which is higher than the national average of 35 percent.
Three new housing projects — in ‘Ele‘ele, Lihu‘e and Princeville — will provide affordable homes for 152 families, he said.
The Electronic Plan Review, which has been up and running for a year, has cut waiting time for building permits by 70 percent, according to Carvalho.
As far as maintaining and improving county parks, he said renovations at the western bathrooms at Po‘ipu Beach Park are finished, and later this year the county will work on the eastern bathrooms and pavilions.
At Lydgate Beach Park, the county is doing a $500,000 renovation — $300,000 under budget — according to Carvalho.
The Kapa‘a Pool also went through renovations.
After taking a tour of 55 county park facilities last year and identifying 62 urgent priorities, two-thirds of those items have already been addressed, and the rest is underway, he said.
“Parks (Department) is rocking and rolling, and there’s much more to come,” Carvalho said.
The State of the County also highlighted an economic recovery, with many new businesses opening, the upcoming reopening of Coco Palms Resort and a boom in the film industry on Kaua‘i — including the filming of a new installment of Jurassic Park.
Agriculture has also been on the rise. In 2010, the eight county Sunshine Markets sold $600,000 of produce. In 2013, they reached revenues of nearly $1 million.
“And these are just county-run markets,” said Carvalho, adding there are many more weekly markets around the island.
He acknowledged there are many valid and important concerns with the Ulupono Dairy project in Maha‘ulepu, but he feels a dairy would be a benefit to Kaua‘i.
“So let’s get those questions answered and those concerns addressed,” said Carvalho, calling on the people to work with the Ulupono team to take hold of the opportunity.
This could be a “breakthrough year” for Kaua‘i, regarding agriculture, but everyone has to “work it and work with it” if they truly want agriculture to feed the island, to power us, to keep us green and to create jobs, he said.
Before ending his speech, Carvalho asked the community to find a project that speaks to their hearts and moves their souls, and then “dive into it.”
“Next year, I want to stand here and speak proudly about something that you’ve had a hand in, something that truly benefits our community,” Carvalho said.
And then he asked everyone to “appreciate the bounty,” to take time to reflect on what is going well and what is truly special about Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau, to spend as much time preserving all that we have.
“The bounty is all around us,” Carvalho said. “Please celebrate it and enjoy it.”