ANAHOLA — Three of the four mayoral candidates talked about the county government’s shortcomings in recent years and their different plans for the future at a KukaKuka community gathering in Anahola yesterday afternoon.
Current council members Mel Rapozo and JoAnn Yukimura and political outsider Rolf Bieber said they would improve government efficiency in dealing with problems such as landfill space, real property taxes and the outdated general plan as they answered questions from members of the public, including a handful of County Council candidates.
Bernard Carvalho was unable to attend but is scheduled to participate in a second KukuKuka in September.
Some 25 community members were in attendance at the tent event, which was organized by Jonathan Jay of Pono Kaua‘i and Jimmy Torio.
Bieber, who described himself as an “unknown” and “anti-politician,” moved to the island in 2000 and currently serves as a computer technician at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Lihu‘e. He said he has discouraged contributions to his campaign, asking that supporters instead donate to local charities. In that vein, he promised to donate his salary to charity if elected mayor.
Yukimura and Rapozo, on the other hand, highlighted their experience as council members for the past six years. Yukimura went a step further, repeatedly referencing her six-year term as mayor.
A question from Koloa resident and council candidate John Hoff sparked a lengthy debate on the status of the island’s landfills.
All three mayoral candidates agreed that the county will need to expand the current Westside landfill to accommodate future years of garbage, with Yukimura in particular praising the three R’s — reduce, reuse, recycle — and promising, if elected, to “fast-track” a materials recovery facility that would turn unwanted trash into valued commodities and lessen the burden on the landfill.
Rapozo said that “political will” has stood in the way of progress on that front, adding that “the fear that if you put a landfill in someone’s community, you won’t get re-elected” has prevented lawmakers from fulfilling their responsibility to the island.
“That was one of my motivations for running for mayor. I want to be the one to make the call,” Rapozo said. “Regardless of the political impact, regardless if I get unelected in two years, the reality is that we’ve got to do something now. We need the landfill. We need it today. Already, we’re behind the eight ball.”
Scott Mijares, of Kilauea, another council candidate, asked the mayoral candidates how they would handle the ongoing issue of real property taxes.
Rapozo came out strongly against the current proposal.
“What is the fiscal impact on this island going forward five years or 10 years? What’s the impact to our keiki? What is it going to be?” he said. “We don’t know, and they can’t answer those questions, so I am not going to be supporting that.”
For her part, Yukimura outlined the bigger picture.
“(The purpose of the real property tax system) is to provide revenue so we can provide services to our community: police, fire, roads, parks, all of this,” she said. “And there has to be some acknowledgment that we all have to do part of our share. … We want to do this in a fair way.”
Bieber discussed some of the inequities of the current system and concluded simply, “there needs to be a cap in place.”
When asked about cooperation between different departments, specifically between the council and the Planning Commission, both veterans said a strong administration is necessary.
“When you have to do a charter change, all you’re trying to get around is poor mayoral leadership. That’s why, I guess, we’re running for mayor,” Yukimura said. “Just put in good leadership instead, and get the job done.”
“We have a problem all the way down the row. … It doesn’t matter about being nice. It’s not about that. We’re in trouble, and we’ve got to take action,” he said. “And the time is now. That’s the bottom line.”