Hawaii Fire Department Chief Kazuo Todd said Wednesday the department will likely finish out the fiscal year slightly under budget.
As of May 31, the department had expended just 84.12% of its $51.92 million annual budget, leaving a little bit of leeway for the final month of fiscal year 2020-21, which ends June 30. With the surplus, the department paid years of past-due bills discovered after a new accountant was brought on, Todd told the Hawaii County Fire Commission Wednesday.
Todd, who was sworn in as chief on April 15, detailed the progress made and challenges encountered since taking the helm of the department. He introduced the new accountant, Nikol Lonokapu, and credited her with finding three years worth of unpaid bills and uncashed checks during her first three weeks of employment.
“We’ve been going through offices and clearing up old paperwork and organizing them to get us up to par,” Todd told the commissioners. “We are now current with everything.”
The department also was recently bolstered with $3.6 million in American Rescue Plan federal funding that it will use to plug a $684,000 hole left when the state reduced funding for contracting lifeguards at Kua Bay and Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area. The remaining funds will be used toward maintenance, equipment and other departmental expenses.
In addition, the department recently received $9.4 million from the state in reimbursement for emergency medical services. Todd told the commissioners that apparently paperwork to receive the funds hadn’t been submitted for last year, as well as for first two quarters of this year.
Another $335,000 was secured from the Hawaii County Council to cover miscellaneous contracts, which pay for outside bulldozers and other contracts associated with fighting brush fires, maintenance and repairs of bunker jackets, station fire equipment, air compressors and heavy equipment maintenance.
The department is also awaiting another $150,000 from the National Fire Service Grant after finding it hadn’t been submitted for the past three years. The grant, which requires a 50/50 match, provided up to $50,000 annually.
With the savings, the department was able to find $20,000 to repair its out-of-service Radon rescue boat stationed at the Kailua-Kona Fire Station. During the downtime, the department’s been using a 16-foot Zodiac-type vessel that was donated after the rescue boat went kaput.
For the long term, the department is looking at either replacing the Radon’s inboard motor, which has been failing yearly, with outboard motors or exploring the possibility of having the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation secure a donor to gift a new boat, said Assistant Chief Darwin Okinaka.
Todd also discussed looking into streaming the commission meetings so all personnel at all stations and community members could view them remotely. He also announced the creation of the department’s new Facebook page, noting the importance of social media in getting information out to the community.
Before the commissioners went into executive session to discuss former acting chief Robert Perreira’s appeal to the Merit Appeals Board concerning the selection of Todd, the chief discussed the fire risk for the coming year.
“Based on our weather patterns, and data from the past 29 years, we are approaching our high risk area. This is a result of us moving into a higher than normal dry season in terms of risk,” Todd said. “From a fire side we can expect potentially a pretty high risk summer. We had four years in a row of low numbers in terms of good humidity and good rain, which allowed for a lot of underbrush growth. We need to be very, very careful.”