STATE OF THE COUNTY 2011
Mayor Alan M. Arakawa
Thank you attorney Luna for that introduction. And good morning and welcome honorable council members, our friends from the state legislature, county directors and deputies and other distinguished guests.
It has been a busy two months in office. So far there have been floods in Kihei and Maalaea, rockslides on the pali, a ban on plastic bags and a push for a major film production studio. And that was just January. By the way, now would be a good time to give a hand to our Public Works personnel for all their hard work during the floods. (Applause)
But now the work continues. And we have a lot of it. As you know our government no longer has the money, to be all things to all people. We must prioritize and decide what our most vital functions are. This is a difficult task, as everything seems vital for those in need. Our neighbors are being kicked out of their homes. Bankruptcies, foreclosures and evictions are taking place in almost every community in the county. Small businesses continue to struggle, many of them mortgaging their homes in order to keep operating. But sometimes even that isn’t enough. On that note if you haven’t been to Kuau Mart yet you have until the end of the month before the Nomura family closes their doors for good.
Our infrastructure is in need of repair which means higher utility bills. Your water bill is going up this year and most likely so will your sewer fees. And there are many more projects, items and areas which cannot afford to be neglected any longer. We have no choice in the matter. It’s either we take care of things now or pay a huge price later.
For example, we must address employee benefits, costs of which keep rising year after year. Right now the county is paying $20 million a year to make up the deficit of these benefit packages. The only way to counter this is to eventually reduce the size of government through natural attrition. This means as county employees leave or retire their positions will come under review and may not be filled.
These are tough decisions to make, but these are tough times and they have to be made. Especially since our main economic engine, the visitor industry, has still not returned to full strength. Although visitor numbers are up they are somewhat deceiving. The hotel industry has had to offer what they call deep discounts to get visitors back to our islands. This means hotels aren’t making as much money as they used to, which has a trickle down effect for the community. It’s one of the reasons why hotel workers who were let go back in 2008 still have not been rehired and remain unemployed. This is why tourism can not be our only economic engine.
And do I even need to mention gas prices? They are projected to hit five dollars a gallon nationwide by next year. Depending on what happens in the Middle East it may be sooner. Of course, expect prices to be even higher here. So yes, things seem bleak for Maui County right now. But . . . it is always darkest before the dawn. We have problems but we do not face them alone. We will face them together. Together our community, the council and this administration are bringing the county back to prosperity.
Already we have taken the first steps. First we have asked the county council for the funds we need to end furlough Fridays. The county is no longer in a situation where we need furlough days and it has for too long limited the public’s access to our services. Our analysis has shown that we are not saving as much money as was once thought. For example a water department employee who is unable to fix a pipe on a furlough Friday is paid much more in overtime to get the job done on the weekend. It’s time to get our county employees back to work and serving the public.
I am also happy to announce that our Permit Process Improvement Team has already implemented some much needed changes. Those in the construction industry have told me it’s easier to get things through the system now. Just ask Marriott Hotel officials, who are finally going forward with their airport hotel project that has been on hold for more than 10 years. Groundbreaking for the airport hotel should start within the next few months. Or ask Maui Beach Hotel officials who are now planning to add a new wing. Faster permits means more construction work which means more jobs. It’s that simple.
We’re also bringing back the events which bring businesses to Maui County. The Professional Windsurfing Association will be crowing its world champions at Hookipa Park this fall, bringing with it visitors from around the globe. Other events which we are working to bring back include A Taste of Lahaina and Front Street Halloween celebrations. These are events which if done correctly, will give visitors a reason to come back. We also recognize the challenges facing our communities and are helping out our small towns in big ways.
On Molokai the county is helping to get rid of more than three thousand abandoned vehicles. Besides being an eyesore these vehicles are dangerous as potential fire hazards and environmental threats due to chemicals leaking into the soil.
We are also finalizing an agreement with Alexander and Baldwin so that the county can take over the Paia bypass road. Our goal is to keep the road open as long as possible on a daily basis so that traffic is not backed up to all the way to Spreckelsville anymore.
And we’re putting up highway signs to let tourists know where to find Makawao. We know where it is, tourists don't. Makawao is a great town with a lot to offer and we want to make it easy for visitors to spend their money there.
In Central, West and South Maui we’re working on more affordable housing projects. The Kaiwahine Village in Kihei and the Hale Mua subdivision in Waihee to name a couple.
And in a year or two we expect to be breaking ground on Maui’s first real park system. We’re talking about more than 300 acres of total park space in the Maui Lani area. This Central Maui Park will rival any park in the state, including Kapiolani Park on Oahu. I sincerely thank our county council and our state legislators --especially Senate President Shan Tsutsui-- for their support of this project and helping to make this Central Maui Park become a reality.
We also thank President Tsutsui, Senator Roz Baker, and Representatives Mele Carroll, Angus McKelvey, and Gil Keith-Agaran for their ongoing leadership efforts to bring a true full production film studio to Maui.
And as part of our commitment to the environment, by the end of the year you should be seeing solar panels appearing on County facilities. By doing this we believe we can lower our own electricity costs and stimulate several million dollars in local construction work. This year we are going to start curbside pickup of recyclable goods in the Maui Meadows area. We plan to expand this service to all of Maui County as soon as possible.
And finally . . . let’s talk about water meters. I can give out water meters right now, but not in any sort of way that would be fair to all the people waiting on the upcountry water meter list. To address this we have initiated an internal engineering analysis to identify the costs necessary to upgrade the piping system required. This way we will know how much it will cost to put in every meter. It is only after we obtain that crucial piece of information that we can figure out how to get water to people who need it, and in what amount. After all, what good is a five-eighths inch water meter when you’re trying to develop a 10 acre farm? Also at some point we will have to answer some hard questions about who should pay for what in this water system. Maui has the water, now we need the method.
All of these endeavors we believe will make Maui County a better place. Not just for us but for our children and their children. As Albert Einstein once said, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for the future.” For hope is what keeps us going. It’s not just a word but a feeling, an unshakeable belief that better days are upon us.
I hope that you will all join me in making Maui County a prosperous place once again. For I truly believe this is the best community in the world, not just because of its beauty but because of its people. It is people who are Maui County’s greatest resource. If you want to talk about a clean and natural source of alternative energy it’s right here in this community. So let us tap into that energy and do great things together. Thank you for allowing me to serve the you once again.
Aloha and God bless.