LIHUE — Jay Furfaro says he has had a good run as a public servant.
For the past two decades, the 66-year-old Princeville resident has served three years on the Planning Commission, spent two years working on the county’s general plan, and held his spot on the Kauai County Council for seven terms.
“I really feel fortunate to be able to serve the people of Kauai for the past 14 years,” said Furfaro, who served as the council’s finance committee chair for six years. “The fact that the torch is being passed, I’m able to take that as a sign that things change in a democracy.”
Up until the second print out on Tuesday night, when 10 of the county’s 16 precincts were reporting and all absentee ballots were counted, Furfaro was on track to retain his seat on the seven-member board. Results from the remaining six precincts, however, shuffled the order and pushed Furfaro to eighth place, with only 92 votes separating him from seventh-place finisher Gary Hooser.
“I think the margins from sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth and even 10th was between 250 votes,” Furfaro said on Wednesday. “But, the bigger point I’d like to make is, that 41,869 people could have voted for more but chose not to. It’s very interesting.”
Votes on several controversial subjects, including the county budget, real property taxes and Ordinance 960, the county law regulating the use and disclosure of pesticides and genetically modified organisms, likely played some role in the outcome of the election, Furfaro said.
“I think those are probably three big things that, unless I got a clear message out on the rationale, probably contributed to me losing by 92 votes,” he said.
Being the council chair, Furfaro opined, also puts him in a difficult position at times.
“If there are issues that they like on the left and you don’t go that way, it’s a challenge, and it’s vice-versa, if you don’t go with something on the right,” said Furfaro, who has served as the board’s council chair for the past six years. “For me, it’s about keeping a balanced, level playing field. As chair, you get judged a lot. It’s tough to be in the middle — it’s very different from being very much on one side or another.”
Though he will not be a part of the new board, Furfaro said he is pleased that there are three young, progressive people, KipuKai Kualii, Arryl Kaneshiro and Mason Chock, on the council.
Among the biggest challenges that the County Council will face, once the newly elected board takes over on Dec. 1, is balancing the county budget by weighing cost-reduction measures, Furfaro said. One of the most significant areas that deserve some attention, he said, are funds dealing with public safety, which are experiencing significant increases in funding and negotiated wages.
County officials, he said, must also focus their lobbying efforts on getting a higher share of the transient accommodations taxes. The County of Kauai’s share of those revenues, which are imposed on the gross rental income collected by short-term accommodations providers, was capped at $13.5 million by the state Legislature in 2011.
That amount was increased to $14.9 million for at least the next two years during the last legislative session.
“When they took $27 million away from us, that created part of our hardship,” Furfaro said. “We were driving a car and they took gas out of our tank — you’d save by not racing ahead and downshifting, but we didn’t right size quick enough knowing that we would have the $27 million shortfall.”