A packed house at McCoy Studio Theater at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center Wednesday evening heard the third edition of Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa’s State of the County Address. Afterwards, one member of that audience told Maui TV News, “If the 2013 State of the County speech was ‘cautiously optimistic,’ this year’s was just ‘cautious’.”
Introductions and songs lasted longer than the speech, which included a review of the Arakawa administrations accomplishments so far. The mayor focused on successes in alternative energy, acquisition of land for preservation and the expanded focus on public parks and recreation options. One round of applause followed his promise that Hansen and Kokomo roads would finally receive much-needed resurfacing attention.
Here is the full text of Mayor Alan Arakawa’s 2014 State of the County address:
“Aloha and good evening.
First let’s give a big hand to our emcee Paul Douglas. Thank you for that warm welcome Paul, and thank you for showcasing your talent here at our event today.
At this time I would like to welcome the rest of our audience, friends, family, distinguished guests, those in their car listening on KAOI radio or watching this live on Akaku TV – who by the way is streaming this video worldwide – and I’d like to say mahalo for joining us here at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s McCoy Studio Theater.
We are honored by the fact that so many of you have taken time out of your busy schedule to be here or tune in from home. Everyone’s time is limited and I appreciate the time you have all chosen to spend with us today.
As I stand before you, in the second month of our fourth year in office, I can say, without a doubt, that our community is in a better place than when we first began this journey.
Four years ago, when our county was teetering between recovery and relapse from the Great Recession, we told people that we had some “tough decisions to make, but these are tough times and they have to be made.”
In response, the community and our council members listened, and they helped us to make those tough decisions. Taxpayers accepted increases and the council approved some much-needed projects. Because of this, we were able to pay to fix things now, that would have cost us much more later.
Then three years ago, when people were beginning to feel safer about taking risks and investing in our community, we encouraged them to take advantage of that optimism by being bold. We said that “only by being bold can you take advantage of hope. And only by being bold can you effect change.”
And we were bold. All of us were bold. The county embarked on an aggressive road improvement campaign, paving and repairing more roads in one year than we ever had before. Meanwhile, our visitor industry numbers kept increasing, construction companies were busy renovating hotels and building supermarkets, and even our real estate market had finally begun to bounce back.
Then last year I said that while we still have much more to do, the state of the County was GOOD.
And things are still GOOD. In fact, things are even better.
Unemployment in Maui County is at its lowest rate since 2008, at 4.6 percent. The visitor industry kept getting stronger throughout 2013 and while expected to stabilize, will remain strong for the future. Our construction workers are still busy with multiple projects, including the ongoing construction of a $300 million dollar solar telescope on Haleakala. Meanwhile, the county continues to push forward with infrastructure projects that will improve the quality of life for everyone.
The reason why things have gotten better is simple: we have endured. This community has endured and we have all worked very hard to pull ourselves out this slump.
County government has done our best to assist you, the residents and businesses, with this recovery effort by providing you with the tools for success, including sound infrastructure, a streamlined permitting process and efficient county operations.
Working together we have left the Great Recession behind where it belongs, in the past.
Looking towards our future, we want more than just to recover, we want this community to thrive. And we can do it. We can do it because this community has created a positive momentum, and we need to ride that wave for as long as we can.
Momentum is a powerful thing, because the more it builds, the faster we will move forward together.
Just as a baseball pitcher transfers the momentum from his body to the ball when he pitches, we have transferred the momentum from our thoughts and words and put them into our actions. These actions have in turn changed our community and our economy for the better, and that is why we are moving forward and why we will continue to move forward.
People may dismiss momentum as merely a fancy metaphor for positive thinking, but it is so much more than that. With the right momentum, championships are won, businesses rise and communities thrive.
Over the last four years Maui County has worked to shift our momentum, from simply reacting to problems to anticipating them and finding solutions.
For example, in 2011 we realized that our road maintenance schedule would never catch up to all the roads that needed repairs, so we asked the council for more funding and took a new approach.
Now, in addition to our repairs, we are using new techniques, like applying a sealant on repaired roads to make them last longer.
Since then some of our main arteries through our towns, such as Wakea Avenue here in Kahului, have been completely rehabilitated.
I should point out that there is a vast difference between repaving and rehabilitation. While repaving a major road usually lasts for about 10 to 15 years, rehabilitation, which literally involves tearing up and removing the old road, lasts twice as long, from 20 to 30 years. Applying sealants will add another 5 to 7 years to those lifespans.
This year, the list of road improvement projects includes Papa Avenue, Makawao Avenue, and Kokomo and Hansen roads.
If you have driven on either Kokomo or Hansen lately, you know that both of those roads require a much-needed overhaul.
These two roads in particular are also examples of projects for which we were able to obtain federal funding. This means that 80 percent of the construction cost for Kokomo and Hansen will be picked up by our federal tax dollars.
You told us the roads needed to be fixed, and we heard you. And with federal tax dollars assisting us we can build more and better roads.
Besides fixing our roads, we continue to rebuild and improve our water system. Water in Maui County is one of our most valuable resources, and we must use it as efficiently as possible.
Our administration has worked closely with the County Council over the last three years to redefine our needs and the resources required to meet future water demands.
We are already moving forward with dozens of projects which will replace our aging water infrastructure and allow us to meet the community’s needs for decades to come.
There are new wells being developed in Central and West Maui. The reconstruction of Waikamoi Flume serving the Upcountry area is about 50 percent complete.
We expect to begin the process of issuing hundreds of meters for the Upcountry area in the next few weeks. It will take several months to work our way through these applicants, but real progress is worth the effort.
Everyone knows that we have always had water issues in Maui County. We have accomplished much towards resolving these issues and we aren’t going to slow down.
Over in our Parks Department, we are also making an effort to raise the bar for our community by making some much-needed changes to our park facilities and park operations.
We are in the first phase of restroom improvements as our workers fix and repair 42 park restrooms across the county. You can already see many of these improvements at our park facilities in Kahului, Paia, Haiku, Lahaina and Napili.
This fiscal year our Parks Department will also expand repairs to include not just restrooms, but soccer, football, baseball and softball fields, tennis and outdoor basketball courts, community centers, gymnasiums, aquatic facilities and passive recreation spaces.
Parks will also continue to focus on park maintenance and improving permitting operations. These improvements mean changing the way we have been doing things for a long time.
While these changes are necessary, we know that they will take some adjustment from the community.
Make sure to voice your comments to our Parks Department throughout this process.
These changes to our Parks system will mean many positive benefits for our entire community, so I ask for everyone’s patience and understanding.
Besides updating our facilities, our lack of park space is another challenge that must be met. The population of Maui County has grown with each passing year, but our park spaces have not developed proportionately.
Every year it seems there are more youth sports teams, leagues and clubs that need to utilize our parks. And that’s not counting our adult and senior leagues that keep the rest of us active.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, having an active community is a good thing. We just need to find somewhere to put everyone.
To help us do this, the County finally purchased 209 acres last year which will eventually become the Central Maui Regional Park. Once this park is complete, we will have space for everyone to play almost any sport.
This is why it is critical right now to improve parks operations, because as new and additional properties are added to the department, we need to ensure that we are ready to manage, maintain and permit out these facilities.
It will take some time to develop the 209 acres of property, but in the meantime we will be asking for community input for the first phase of master planning for this new park space.
The community has asked for more parks, better parks, cleaner parks, and we are working to accomplish just that.
Our Department of Environmental Management is also looking for more space for our Central Maui Landfill. However, instead of enlarging the landfill, we are looking to divert trash from it using our Integrated Waste Conversion and Energy Project.
Earlier this year we signed an agreement with the Maui Resources Recovery Facility, which will divert about 85 percent of our solid waste from our landfill.
This means we will be able to limit the expansion of our landfill by converting our trash into a valuable asset. This facility will mean more recycling, composting, and conversion into energy and energy products.
Eventually we hope to make Maui County a zero-waste community, where we reuse and recycle instead of trash and bury.
Our Wastewater Division has also asked me to pass along an important message to the community, and that is to please try and keep grease and oil out of your pipes.
A majority of our wastewater spills over the last several years were from pipes that had burst because of pressure built up from oil and grease clogs. So far workers have prevented these wastewater spills from running into the ocean, but let’s not take any chances.
Help us save the environment and taxpayer dollars by doing your part at home.
Environmental Management is also aware of the impacts that some of our operations have on surrounding neighborhoods and we are working to change that as well.
We have had complaints about our pump station north of Kaanapali Parkway, and we have a construction contract to overhaul that station and put in a new odor control system. This new biofilter should eliminate about 90 percent of the odor from the facility, helping out both residents and businesses in the area.
This community made it a priority for the county to better manage our waste streams, so that we don’t build mountains of trash and pollute our ocean and air, and we are attacking this challenge from every angle.
Some of our other department highlights this year include:
– A proposal from the Maui Police Department to bring back their solo bike officers. The goal of the solo bike patrol is to reduce deaths and injuries by aggressively enforcing our motor vehicle laws.
The agility of our motorcycle officers will increase traffic enforcement capabilities on our roads and highways and will also cost taxpayers less money on fuel and maintenance.
– We are in the master planning stages of setting up our 100 acre Central Maui Baseyard. Once complete we will be able to take the vehicles from our various other department baseyards, including water, fire, public works, environmental management, parks and others, and consolidate them into one area. For some departments this removes their vehicles out of flood and tsunami inundation zones, while others will save money from not having to lease property anymore.
– The Mitchell Pauole Community Center in Kaunakakai will undergo some much-needed renovations and expansion. At the same time, Maui police who operate out of the civic center are looking for a new location to build a new Molokai Police Station. While the police force has grown with the Molokai population, their facilities have not.
Right now police do not have adequate security measures for processing arrestees, and female officers have to dress in a janitor’s closet because they don’t have a separate locker room.
– East Maui residents have been talking about having their own community center in Nahiku for years now, and we broke ground on the Nahiku Community Center last year. This year we will hopefully complete construction and the center will serve the community as a place for public gatherings, private functions and emergency shelter.
– We continue to expand our Maui County Solar Rooftop project on our county facilities, with installation of PV panels going up on 18 more facilities this year for a total of 39 countywide. Some of these new installations include storage and we expect substantial cost savings once those are complete. The projected savings of these panels are around $10 million dollars in energy costs over the next 20 years. Right now we generate 2.5 million watts of solar PV output on sunny days and overall, our community is generating about 30 percent renewable energy. It’s a good start, but we still have a ways to go before we hit our long-term goal of 100 percent renewable energy.
– We continue to add more vehicles and bus infrastructure to the Maui Bus system to better address the public’s request for expanded services. This includes the 10 new large transit buses that we just added to our fleet recently. We have also gone out to bid on three more of the smaller, 25 person passenger buses and nine more paratransit buses. We have also added 10 more bus shelters bringing our total up to 18 countywide.
– We remain dedicated to affordable housing assistance for our residents in need of it. Over the last four years our affordable housing projects will have helped almost 200 residents and families either rent or own a home. Some of those projects – such as Kulamalu – are still in the design and planning stages and will need council support for further funding. We are also working with Pulama Lanai to develop affordable housing units for rent and sale on Lanai as well. – We are still considering the idea of moving Sakamoto Pool from its current location, and expanding it to become a real Central Maui Aquatics Center. We would also like to take that extra space and expand the current War Memorial Gymnasium into a Civic Center, much like the Blaisdell complex on Oahu.
– We continue to move forward with installing GPS into five hundred of our county vehicles. So far the system has been a great success and saved the county money by monitoring the wear and tear on our vehicles and letting departments know of engine trouble by electronically sending out diagnostic reports. Data collected over the next several months will allow the Department of Management to increase vehicle productivity, reduce fuel consumption and limit the need for new vehicle purchases.
– And finally, the time has come to consider moving our county service offices out of the Maui Mall. This includes our Division of Motor Vehicle and Licensing as well as our Real Property Tax Division and Treasury Collections.
Currently the County pays more than $475,000 in annual rent for Maui Mall office space, and it increases by 4 percent every year. The mall was also recently purchased by an off-island investor, and we don’t know if their long term plans include our Service Center. If we find the right property, we can save taxpayer dollars and still remain an important resource in the Central Maui community.
We also continue to work with our Maui delegation in the state legislature to fund important projects. We especially thank them for finishing up the first two portions of the Lahaina bypass and releasing the funds for a new Kihei High School.
For our part, the county looks forward to developing a new Kihei gymnasium that will compliment the high school and meet the growing needs of the South Maui community.
Although our legislative delegation has helped the county with many projects and funding, we ask that you stand tall with us once again as we join Speaker Joe Souki in asking that the state remove the current cap on the Transient Accommodations Tax, better known as the T-A-T. If the cap was removed the County of Maui would receive approximately $37 million dollars in revenue – that’s $16 million dollars more than we currently receive – to help us cover the ever-increasing costs of tourism. While the industry is our bread and butter it comes with a price to our infrastructure and services. Just last year Maui County saw 2.3 million visitors in our islands. Some needed to be rescued out of the ocean while others were airlifted off of mountain trails, but all of them had some sort of impact upon our roads, water and wastewater systems.
If the state keeps taking away the TAT the county would have no choice but to raise other taxes that would impact our residents instead of our visitors. Please help us avoid that situation if at all possible.
Finally I would like everyone to recognize our Maui County Councilmembers. We may have gone through some rough patches over these last few years but in the end they saw the community benefit and voted to approve several important projects, including the design of a new county campus in Wailuku and the purchase of almost 200 acres of land in Launiupoko for preservation.
Without willing partners in the legislative branch of government, the executive branch is limited as to what we can accomplish, and vice-versa. That goes for any body of government, whether you’re talking about county, state or federal.
Both sides must remember that what we do is not for each other, but for the public who voted us into office.
The Launiupoko project for example, will benefit this community generations to come. Prior to that, we also bought 65 acres of beachfront property at Paukukalo for environmental and cultural preservation.
You asked us to preserve our environment, and we did and will continue to do so. We are in the process of expanding our agricultural parks, creating community gardens so neighborhoods can feed themselves and exploring a forestation project above the new Kihei Police Station that will be fed from recycled water from our treatment plants.
We have this green momentum, so let’s continue to use it to preserve our aina and protect it from harm. Especially against environmental threats like the Little Fire Ant.
This invasive species will wreak havoc on our community if we are not vigilant.
We must do everything within our power to remove this pest from our islands and make sure that it never comes back. I call upon the people of Maui County to carefully inspect any plant and imported plant products you buy and ask retailers if they were inspected for Little Fire Ants. If you suspect you have the LFA on your property please contact the State Department of Agriculture immediately for inspection and if warranted, eradication.
Little Fire Ant stings cause severe pain and can blind pets and other animals. They have been known to attack agricultural workers and our Hawaiian Seabirds, which nest on the ground.
We need many more agricultural inspectors and environmental invasive species funding to combat this threat. These state inspectors play a crucial part in preventing these ants from coming to our islands in the first place, and right now the state only has one inspector for Maui, Molokai and Lanai. Maui County hopes that our state legislators have heard our cry for help and are paying attention to this potentially devastating problem.
Working together, we can stop the Little Fire Ant.
Working together, we can do just about anything. Because there is no force that can stop this community when we put our minds to it. Not a bad economy, not natural disasters and certainly not invading insects.
In closing, may I just say that it has been an honor to be your mayor for the past three years. I was given this honor once before and it has been a Godsend to have this opportunity once again. It would be an honor and a privilege to serve another four years, but this is not the time or place for that speech. Instead, I would just like to thank my staff and department heads and all of our County workers for putting in the hours to make Maui County a better place.
Most of all I’d like to thank my wife, Ann, for standing at my side every day, at every event, some for hours on end. She is a patient woman who loves this community as much as I do. Through it all she has always smiled and been the friendly face to my more serious demeanor. She really has been the best first lady anyone could ever have. I am proud of everything this community has accomplished. And although we are doing well, Maui County has not reached our full potential yet.
But we will. Because we have the momentum, we have the energy and we will prevail.
So let’s keep our economy going. Let’s keep improving our infrastructure and keep planning for the future. I know that if we keep reaching for better and brighter goals, our momentum will carry us through.
Mahalo again, and God bless this place we call home, because it truly is the best community in the world.