$103M bond issue breezes through council committee

  • Vehicles line up on Ane Keohokalole Highway to turn at its terminus at Hina-Lani Street in Kailua-Kona in 2018. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

The County Council has nothing but aloha for a $103 million bond measure to raise money for road construction.

The council, sitting as the Finance Committee, unanimously moved Bill 145, to get a number of road projects started sooner than would otherwise be done, forward to two council readings with a positive recommendation.

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“This is a good time to issue bonds,“ said Finance Director Deanna Sako.

Not only are interest rates down, but one of the bond rating agencies, Standard &Poors, recently raised the county’s credit rating, a move that typically lowers the interest rate on borrowing. Sako said the rating was raised from AA- to AA.

“We’re very excited and it was very unexpected,” Sako said of the rating agency’s unscheduled evaluation and upgrade in December.

Transportation priorities specified in the bill are: Ane Keohokalole Highway Phase III-Hina Lani Street to Kaiminani Drive, Puna Connectivity and Emergency Access Routes, Paniolo Avenue Rehabilitation/ Waikoloa Intersection Construction, Kawili Street Shoulder Improvements, Mamalahoa Highway Resurfacing-Hohola Drive to Kekehau Street, Plumeria Street Rehabilitation and Waianuenue Avenue.

Council Chairman Aaron Chung, the bill sponsor, said the bond issue is to fulfill a promise to constituents that the council would push transportation projects after approving a county surcharge on the general excise tax. But the bond issue will actually be backed by the full faith and credit of the county, not by the GET revenues.

“This is in no way saying that these projects are exhaustive of the needs of the island,” Chung said. “But it should give us a good kick-start.”

In addition, Chung said, there’s money in the bond issue for the administration to also select priority projects. And, it will allow the county to leverage the money to get state and federal road grants.

Kohala Councilman Tim Richards was enthusiastic about the measure.

“A screaming need for counties across the nation is our infrastructure,” Richards said. “I think moving this forward is without question the right thing to do.”

The county’s bond debt ratio, based on all debt approved by the County Council, is at 12.9% of general expenditures, nearing the 15% ceiling recommended by the Government Finance Officers Association. But the county has so far borrowed about 9.6%.

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The only testimony came from Aaron Stene, who submitted written testimony supporting the measure.

“I strongly support floating bonds to improve various islandwide county roadways,” Stene said, mentioning the Ane Keohokalole Highway, the Paniolo Avenue-Waikoloa intersection and resurfacing of Mamalahoa Highway as three top priorities. “Hawaii County should take this opportunity to improve our roadway infrastructure when interest rates are low.”

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