Mayor Roth’s town hall series begins in West Hawai’i; issues include vacation rentals, homelessness, feral cats, pickleball
May 31, 2023, 1:20 PM HST
* Updated May 31, 1:46 PM
On Tuesday evening in South Kona, Hawai’i County Mayor Mitch Roth heard an earful during his first town hall in a new series of community meetings across the island aimed at providing updates and fostering engagement with residents.
Tina Snapp, a vacation rental owner, expressed concerns about County Council legislation that would add more regulations, negatively impacting her small business.
“I know people who support their families through vacation rentals and won’t be able to afford to keep going if they’re going to have to pay more fines and taxes,” she said.
An elderly man who was not identified scolded Roth about the homeless crisis. He said the county should make it a law that if people come to the Big Island and don’t have a place to stay, then they must get back on the plane and not come back.
Other issues mentioned during the meeting included the island-wide staffing shortage; affordable housing so young people donʻt move off the island; and a need for the county to put more informative signs in public parks.
“And a sign at the Honokōhau ramp that says – ‘no drive through,'” joked Kona resident Jon Barlow. He was referring to the incident the night before in which a second tourist drove into the harbor while following GPS.
The town hall series is called: “Sustainable Horizons: Mayor Roth’s Community Impact Check-in.” The goal is to establish a platform where residents can stay informed about local initiatives, express their concerns and actively contribute to shaping the future of Hawai’i Island.
The first one drew about three dozen West Hawai’i residents, filling Rodney Yano Memorial Hall in Captain Cook. More than 100 people also attended online.
They heard from county leaders who provided updates about plans, goals and initiatives impacting local neighborhoods.
On the panel was Hawai’i Police Chief Ben Moszkowicz, Fire Chief Kazuo Todd, Housing Administrator Susan Kunz, Planning Department Director Zendo Kern, Director of Solid Waste Ramzi Mansour, Public Works Director Steve Pause, Hawai’i County Parks and Recreation Director Maurice Messina, Director of Research and Development Douglass Shipman Adams, and Kawika Uyehara with the Department of Water Supply.
During the first 30 minutes, the directors informed the residents about the goals and objectives in each department.
They included: tackling the homelessness issue with 13 new contracts; $106,000 for new pickleball courts and equipment; a $200 million commitment to rebuild the Hilo Wastewater Treatment Plant; the urgent need to upgrade 2,000 cesspools in South Kona by 2050; and progress on a portion of the proposed Aliʻi Highway project, connecting Lako Street to Aliʻi Drive as an additional Mauka-Makai access point.
Roth, who is midway through his four-year term, opened up about where he believes the money will be spent during his tenure.
“We will probably put more money and infrastructure into the environment than anything else because we’re at that much risk at this time,” he said.
Roth also talked about improving the new county animal control agency, with residents expressing concern about feral cats and pigs, and ensuring that the decisions of his county leadership preserve the island culture.
Each department head spoke about their current focus. For solid waste, it was dealing with the cesspool upgrades and tackling the issue of abandon vehicles. The county can tow and dispose of up to two vehicles per property for the sake of beautification on the island.
Moszkowicz told the crowd the police department will be getting new uniforms and patrol officers now are wearing body-worn cameras.
“It gives us a video and audio recording,” he said. “It protects the county, and protects the officers against false allegations; and it provides a really good amount of information when it comes time to prosecuting people in court.”
Other updates included the upcoming Waikōloa Road Rehabilitation Project, which will repave the 12 mile road; the fire department’s new uniforms and several new trucks to help with brush fire incidents, and new ambulances and mobile data in the emergency vehicles.
Shipman Adams with Research and Development discussed broadband upgrade plans, investment in local schools, and a hydrogen energy alliance with Japan and California.
Uyehara said the water department is committed to resiliency, redundancy and recruitment, by standardizing their equipment and making sure there’s water available in case of emergencies or natural disasters.
Kern with the planning department said the goal was to not overdevelop country areas in Kona.
“Don’t expect a lot of changes in that regard; we’re not going to see a lot of sprawl,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is keep our urban areas, our urban growth boundary areas, confined and say this is where we’re going to have growth and outside of that we’re going to limit the growth. That’s not where we want growth. We want to keep country, country.”
The next community town hall is scheduled for June 13 at Old Kona Airport Beach Park Pavilion from 5 to 7 p.m. All members of the community are invited to join.
The meeting will be streamed live on Mayor Roth’s Facebook page (facebook.com/himayormitch) and Nā Leo TV, Channel 55. Residents can also view Tuesday night’s town hall at these locations.