County Lays Out Priorities to Bolster Economy After COVID-19

June 4, 2020, 6:00 AM HST (Updated June 3, 2020, 8:52 PM)
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County officials are currently looking at ways to budget their newly-received CARES Act federal funding of $80 million to assist in economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the Governmental Relations and Economic Development Committee Wednesday afternoon, Roy Takemoto, county managing director, provided an update on what the county has done will continue to do as they move the Big Island out of this economic crisis.

The spread of the coronavirus forced the closure of businesses and restricted air travel for more than two months statewide in an effort to suppress the spread of the virus. At this point, the county has reopened many of its low- to medium-risk businesses.

Businesses that remain closed are those that promote large gatherings and events, including bars and clubs. There are many upcoming decisions to be made, Takemoto said, assuming there are no COVID-19 spikes.

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Priorities identified by the county are public safety, public health, Civil Defense, infrastructure, public works, financial and legal assistance.

“We need to bolster some of these areas,” Takemoto said. “We need to be sure we can do all of those very well.”

Takemoto specifically noted the need for the construction of a new dispatch center, already an approved Capital Improvement Project, and establishing a call center for the county to assist with the public’s needs.

Additional priorities include cesspools, construction of affordable housing for the homeless, lava recovery in the Puna District and connective road projects.

Takemoto also noted to the committee what the county learned as a result of this crisis. One was the lack of childcare as people started to go back to work.

“And how to address high-volume temporary needs,” Takemoto said. “I don’t have an answer for that. That’s something we’re going to continue to brainstorm to do better.”

Additionally, Takemoto said, they need to encourage the community to stay healthy and continue the efforts in becoming self-sufficient with food production.

Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter commented that the county needs to encourage food production in the budget, which means supporting farmers against agriculture theft.

“We want to encourage food production, but there’s a lot of people stealing from people’s farms,” Poindexter said. “We need to help farmers with some of the struggles they go through with AG theft.”

The councilwoman also questioned what was more of a priority, a new dispatch center, or food sustainability.

Councilman Tim Richards agreed with Poindexter. He also mentioned his concern for the resorts on the Kohala Coast.

“The resorts on the west side right now are tomatoes on the vine dying,” he said. “I fear we’re going to lose some of these resorts if we can’t support them somehow.”

Richards added that he believes the county will go through the $80 million pretty quickly.

“The most paramount thing is reopening the community and getting us back to work,” he said.

This afternoon, the state announced its economic recovery plan, “Beyond Recovery: Reopening Strategy,” is now available to be viewed online. Gov. David Ige presented the strategy in late May.

The guiding principles behind the plan are to save lives and prevent suffering, empower individuals with safe practices, and reopen and reshape Hawai‘i to be stronger and more resilient. There are four phases to the state’s reopening.

The state is currently in phase two, the Reopening Phase, with an emphasis on strengthening and promoting the Kama‘aina Economy. During this phase, inter-island travel will reopen without quarantine restrictions on June 16.

“We will continue monitoring health metrics with every decision we make and are committed to decisions based on data, science, and best practices,” Ige said. “We are also mindful that every action we take serves the interest of the health and safety of the people of Hawaiʻi. Together, we will emerge stronger and more resilient, as a result of learning from and overcoming this challenge.” View the plan online at:
https://recoverynavigator.hawaii.gov/reopening-status/#detailed-strategy

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