OPINION: The Next Four Years
Mayor Billy Kenoi’s photo-finish in the general election against former Mayor Harry Kim was proof that for all the belly-aching in the press and at our county council over Kenoi’s actions over the last four years, most Big Island residents have been satisfied with his performance.
It’s worth remembering that much like President Obama and other chief executives elected in 2008, Kenoi ended up taking over a government soon to face the worst financial meltdown of the last 70 years.
The curse of a local government reliant on property taxes is that revenues will largely be tied to a fluctuating housing market. As property values plummeted, Kenoi was left with the unenviable task of slashing government spending and services, both of which had ballooned under the previous administration of Mayor Kim.
Through a combination of furloughs, cutbacks, and deferred spending, along with a one-time property tax hike designed to maintain revenues, Kenoi’s administration was able to largely preserve essential services.
The last four years our county government has been more or less in “survival” mode. But as unemployment continues to fall (from 11.2% in June 2011 to 7.9% in September 2012), and housing prices finally begin a slow rebound, it’s time for the mayor and our county council to start addressing some of the issues they’ve been keeping on the back burner, along with newer challenges that have cropped up in the last year.
Taking out the Trash
With the Hilo landfill set to close around the middle of this decade, our county government needs to get cracking, and end its deadlock over what to do with all the junk piling up in east Hawaii.
Talk of new landfills, incinerators, and other lofty endeavors is fine. But in reality, we need some short-term fixes, and fast. Solutions aren’t lacking (like temporarily trucking trash to west Hawaii), but so far political will has been hard to find.
GASB: Facing the Music
Part of the fiscal juggling act the mayor’s office has been busy with involves putting off payments to future pension liabilities (known as GASB 45.)
Over the last two years, Kenoi’s administration opted to postpone $34 million in GASB payments in order to help balance the county’s budget. Thus far, the deferrals haven’t impacted the county’s credit rating, but it’s time to start addressing this issue before it causes creditors to charge our county government higher interest rates on its debt.
Just Build it Already
With a swell of solar power conversions clogging up the building department, the county needs to find a way to safely speed the permitting process, whether redirecting funds to hire more staff, or getting a temporary funding boost to bring in outside contractors.
Too many builders and businesses are sitting on their laurels, waiting for approvals before proceeding to construction. One commercial real estate developer recently told Big Island Now that multiple clients were waiting on final permit approvals before hiring staff and opening their doors.
New projects mean new jobs, and speeding the process of applications and approvals could go a long way toward putting our economy back on track.
Lots to Do
Now that election season has come to a close, our mayor and council have no shortage of challenges to address. Apart from the problems already mentioned, the Big Island must also deal with an Axis Deer threat, widespread drought, and the debate over the future of alternative energy.
For at least a little while, the time for campaigning is over. Let’s get cracking.