Aloha! Once again, it is time for the monthly update from our office.
On March 1, the administration delivered to County Council the proposed budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Our fiscal year runs July 1 to June 30. This next year’s proposed budget is $573 million. This is up from $518 million this past year, and up from 478 million the previous year.
When I took office in 2016, the budget was $461 million. The increase since I have been in office is approximately 25 percent. And 2018 was an extraordinary year. Our expenses were higher due to the numerous natural disasters we encountered. Currently, we are going through the process of budget review. I have met with approximately half of the department heads to discuss their budgets coming forward. The biggest request for staffing comes from the Hawaii Police Department (HPD) seeking 40 new positions. Though this is a substantial request, it is warranted as HPD has not grown to meet our population.
Meetings will be continuing, and public budget hearings will be happening the week of April 15. It is and has always been my deep concern that we spend our constituent’s money wisely. I am also concerned that we’ve seen a substantial growth in our budget. Many of you have contacted me expressing your desire of strong oversight. We as a council are keeping that on the forefront as we go through the budget process.
ECONOMY AND ECONOMIC RECOVERY
Our county GDP (or gross domestic product) is estimated to be $8.5 billion. A little over 1/3 comes from tourism; $3 billion. For 2018, we were on track to have $3.5 billion out of the tourism sector but because of the lava event we finish the year at the same for 2017. Translating that, it means our economy took a $500 million loss. This is a cross-county problem. Most of the physical damage from the lava and then hurricanes were in East Hawaii. However, the economic impact is islandwide. A portion of the funding you have read about coming from our state Legislature will be used for stimulating the tourism industry and supporting the re-tooling of impacted businesses and agriculture.
ESSENTIAL AIR SERVICE EAS WAIMEA AIRPORT
The Waimea-Kohala Airport qualifies under the Essential Air Service program for federal support and funding. This allows contracted airlines to receive federal funding support to keep service in operation. Under the current program, the budget is approximately $400,000 annually. Of this, the regional jurisdiction or in this case the county, is responsible for 5 percent of the annual contract or approximately $20,000 a year. We have the funding in our county, and it has been secured for the next two years which will keep this service ongoing. In the meantime, I will continue to work with the office of Sen. Brian Schatz to have this airport re-designated so to alleviate our financial obligation.
KAMAKOA NUI PARK
It is a park! On April 10, Bill 40 passed its second and final reading before council to officially place, Kamakoa Nui Park in Waikoloa on County of Hawaii Parks and Recreation facility schedule. This was a housekeeping initiative to rectify the fact that the park had never been put on the county books. This oversight came to light as we are working toward the maintenance and repair of the park and working towards the designation of a portion to becoming a dog park. This will now allow us to start moving forward!
On the Big Island, we have two processing plants for our livestock industries; both slaughter and process cattle, but only Kulana Foods handles pigs, sheep and goats. Having access to these processing plants is critically important for the marketing, future and success of our livestock industries and food self-reliance.
Late last fall we ran into a problem that caused the smaller species slaughter to be put on hold. This problem largely revolved around the lack of veterinary oversight from USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) as two of their supervisory veterinary positions within our state were unfilled.
Through extensive communications to our state and federal elected and executive branch officials, and then face-to-face meetings with FSIS officials in Washington, D.C., I was able to get a commitment from FSIS that their veterinary positions will be staffed by rotating veterinarians from other locations until such a time permanent staff is hired. With these assurances and thereby oversight, Kulana Foods re-opened slaughter for the smaller species and our small animal industries are back in business. For the larger businesses, this is also exciting news as one of the biggest customers of Kulana Foods is KTA Superstores. Forty-five percent of their beef sold is locally produced. Their desire is to do the same with our pork production. This can only happen if we have the processing and infrastructure to get those animals to market.
Our success story here shows the need to have a cooperative and cohesive working relationship between the county, state, and federal government officials and agencies that end up aiding our local farmers and ranchers while supporting the infrastructure of Kulana Foods, and retailers like KTA Superstores.
As always, it continues to be a great privilege to serve as your Councilman.