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Mayor Kenoi talks about his first year in office

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Video by David Corrigan | Big Island Video News


20091211_billy-kenoi-press-confI wanted to take a few minutes today to thank our County of Hawai’i residents for the honor and opportunity to serve as mayor of the most beautiful, diverse and fascinating island on the planet. At the close of my first year in office, I am proud of the accomplishments of my team, and I am ready for the challenges ahead. Above all, I owe you all thanks for your support and confidence in my team and myself.

We all know these are challenging times, but this community will come out of this difficult period stronger, more united and more resourceful than when we started. Today, I want to repeat my promise to you that I will listen and be open to the diverse voices and points of view that seek to guide our present and direct our future. I thank all of you for the enthusiastic turnout at the 23 talk-story sessions with my cabinet and myself in cafeterias and meeting halls across the County during my first year as mayor. We called those meetings to help connect our residents with your County government.

My cabinet and I met with you, listened to you, answered your questions and responded to your concerns.

Traffic Improvements: West Hawai’i spoke up loud and clear about the frustrations of traffic jams and congested streets. We responded by opening the Mamalahoa Bypass to ease commuter traffic, and opened a new mauka-makai connector to provide better access between the communities of Kealakehe and Laiopua. Construction is underway on the Parker Ranch connector road to provide another route between Lindsey Road and Mamalahoa Highway to relieve congestion within the center of Waimea town.

Today we have a commitment from the federal government to build the first phase of the Ane Keohokalole Highway for $35 million. Thanks to the assistance of U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye and the Hawai’i Congressional delegation, this project will improve the quality of life in West Hawai’i by opening new lands for development of affordable housing and for Hawaiian homesteading. And of course, construction of the new highway will create good-paying construction jobs at a time when our local people need employment.

Government Access: West Hawai’i residents also told us they were tired of being forced to travel to Hilo to get services or get the attention of a County official. We responded by balancing my cabinet appointments to be sure West Hawai’i is properly represented, including the appointments of Deputy Managing Director Wally Lau and my West Hawai’i Executive Assistant Bobby Command. We also provided West Hawai’i leadership in key departments, including Warren Lee and Tim Esaki in Department of Public Works; Margaret Masunaga in the Planning Department, Bob Fitzgerald in the Department of Parks & Recreation, and Steve Arnett in the Office of Housing and Community Development. My staff and I work from West Hawai’i for part of each week to be sure we are available to serve Kona and Kohala.

Mass Transit: We dramatically expanded bus service island-wide, and we kept it free for everyone. For the first time the County of Hawai’i Mass Transit network had more than 1 million passenger trips in a single year, and we have added nine new buses this year. We expanded routes by about 15 percent last February, and another major expansion of routes is planned for early next year. We will add more buses next year including the state’s first double-decker passenger bus. Keeping our bus service free and expanding routes provides a bit of relief for our residents from high fuel costs during these challenging economic times. It helps to keep our kids busy with constructive afterschool activities, and helps our kupuna to get access to doctors’ care, elderly activities and nutrition programs. I want to thank the County Council for supporting our proposal to keep bus service free for another year.

Stimulus Jobs: We took some decisive steps to help our residents weather the difficult economic times. We aggressively pursued funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the federal economic stimulus package, and we are expecting more than $100 million in stimulus funding to arrive in this county to fund wastewater and drinking water projects; to build and repair roads and bridges; to make improvements at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and other public facilities; to improve energy efficiency in government buildings; and much more. As that funding continues to flow into our community, it will help get our workers in the construction trades back on the job.

Agriculture: To support our hard working farmers and lay the groundwork for farming in the future, we have pledged to make 1,739 acres of county-owned lands at Kapulena available for community-based agriculture, school-based agriculture projects, commercial production, ranching and other uses. We have also worked to advance plans for the proposed rendering plant at Pa’auilo, a project that is critical to our growing grass-fed beef industry.

Social Services: We also took steps to help shelter our residents from the tough economic times. We maintained county funding for non-profit organizations in the face of declining revenues, and our Parks Department developed and launched a new Furlough Friday activity program to give our youth safe and supervised activities on teacher furlough days. That program helps working parents around the island who have no alternative child care, and our Parks Department is to be commended for rapidly responding to a community need. We broke ground this year on the first emergency homeless shelter in West Hawai’i, a project that will fill a longstanding gap in our social services safety net. Early next year, we will begin construction on the transitional housing project at Kaloko, and construction will start on the first model homes for the Waikoloa workforce housing project.

Right-Sizing Government: Government reform has also been part of the program this year. We needed to reduce the size and cost of government in order to balance the budget in this tough economy without raising taxes, and we did so. We cut County spending by 4 percent from last year’s budget, the first time the County budget has been reduced since 2001. We furloughed appointed staff in the mayor’s office, and imposed cuts of 10 percent in non-salary and non-grant expenses. We eliminated funding for 55 vacant positions to save money, and reduced the total number of “warm bodies” employed by the county by 83 through attrition since the beginning of my administration. We asked our employees to do more with less, and they responded.

Ethics Reform: We also took steps to boost confidence in government, proposing sweeping changes to the county Code of Ethics to eliminate potential conflicts between county employees who own private businesses that do work for the county. We believe these changes will instill greater public confidence that county government is conducting its operations in a fair and impartial way.

Public Safety: Knowing that public safety is paramount, we staged the first county-wide tsunami drill on January 27 to test our response to the possibility of a tsunami generated by an earthquake in Alaska. We further honed our emergency response skills through an exercise simulating a terrorist attack on March 18, and through our real-life responses to the earthquake in Tonga on March 19; our preparations as Hurricane Felicia approached in early August; and the response to a possible tsunami in the wake of the magnitude-8.0 earthquake near Samoa on September 19. We are committed to public safety, which requires a commitment to readiness.

I am very proud of what we’ve accomplished this past year, but that’s now in the past. I assure you we will not be sitting back looking at what we’ve done. Now is the time for us to get busier than ever with the business of governing the County of Hawai’i. As we move into the New Year, challenges will be greater and the work will get harder. All I can promise is that my staff and I will work harder than ever to bring good, fair and efficient government to all the residents of our beautiful Island of Hawai‘i. You will hear more in the New Year about the agenda I will pursue as we work together to improve our quality of life. Together, we will make it happen.

Happy Holidays to you and your families.

Billy Kenoi

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