LIHUE — This past year was a busy one for the leadership of Kauai County. It came with its challenges and its triumphs, but overall officials say 2015 was great for Kauai.
Throughout the year, the county installed six of the anticipated 49 bus shelters throughout the island; land was purchased on which to build an adolescent drug treatment and healing center; and the Puhi Road construction project began.
Learning how to connect
Communication was one of the big challenges of the year, according to some council members.
“If there could be a reset button for the County Council, it would be pushed at the new year of a new term,” said Council Chairman Mel Rapozo. “This is when the new leadership begins to really hit the ground running. 2015 was no exception.”
Rapozo said the council “faced organizational challenges from the onset,” and the group spent much of the year “working to address, improve and streamline processes to make for more efficient government.”
Council Services Staff overtime was reduced by two-thirds in 2015, Rapozo said, due to changes the council made in its rulebook. Those changes also facilitated more public participation and meeting efficiency, he added.
Council members also met with Mayor Bernardo Carvalho Jr. and his administration this year in a Shared Priorities Workshop that allowed the two branches of the government to develop joint visions and goals.
In an effort to better communicate with the community, the county amped up its website.
“That was completed this summer and presentation and navigation has improved,” said Carvalho. The site now has “easy, quick access to information and we connected to the smart phones and tablets and all of that.”
Another feature on the website is the ability to download data and spreadsheets that detail the county’s budget.
“As we get into the budget process, (people) can be engaged from home,” Carvalho said.
Successfully passing a balanced budget is also a feather in the council’s cap for 2015.
“We managed to balance our county budget without increasing any property tax rates, or vehicle taxes, unlike the two previous budgets under former council leadership,” Councilman Ross Kagawa said.
Councilman KipuKai Kuali’i said he’s proud of this year’s budget.
“I was able to play a leadership role in the budget process that helped bring about expenditure cuts and strengthened our budget provisos, so that the council is better equipped with information, so we’ll be able to make more cuts,” Kuali‘i said.
Winning a $13.8 million federal transportation grant was one of Carvalho’s 2015 highlights.
Kauai competed against the rest of the nation for the grant, and Carvalho couldn’t be happier that the island landed it.
“It was a team effort from all over the county,” Carvalho said, “and we got it.”
The grant will enhance the mobility of transit for Kauai cars, bicycles and pedestrians, and will “offer ladders of opportunity” for Kauai’s workforce.
Both the Lihue Community Plan and the South Kauai Community plan were adopted in 2015. The two plans are part of an effort to develop specific community plans for each area on the island. Those plans are expected to play into the overall general plan.
“We launched the general plan update, but the goal is to complete the general plan sooner than later,” Carvalho said. “We wanted to commit to launching it because it allows our citizens to understand how to see Kauai grow responsibly.”
The general plan update isn’t finished, Carvalho said.
“It’s a big step because it took a lot of effort from our planning department and citizens advising community,” Carvalho said.
Bills and resolutions
This year the county also did a bit of work on its law books.
“We repealed a faulty dog barking law that allowed citations or fines to be assessed without any physical verification of an offense occurring,” Kagawa said.
Kuali‘i said he is pleased he was able to “make amendments to numerous bills and make them better bills,” as well as “support and help get passed good measures, and was also able to help kill bad measures.”
Examples, he said, are the recent homestay bill regulating B&Bs, and the repeal of the dog barking law.
“I’ve already put forward a new dog barking bill that I’m confident will be an improvement,” Kuali‘i said.
Parks and cultural centers
Kekaha Gardens’ Park was created in 2015, and Carvalho said a “whole transformation took place” in Kekaha as the community worked together with the county to create the park.
At the other end of the island, the master plan for Black Pot Beach Park was created this year and one public meeting has already been held to discuss the vision.
“The discussion is ongoing, but we did launch the master plan project for that,” Carvalho said.
The administration also developed stewardship agreements with various community groups, targeting culturally significant sites, such as the hula mound at Ke’e Beach. Another stewardship agreement was struck with ‘Aina Ho’okupu O Kilauea to develop a plan for and create a 75-acre agricultural park.
Building more housing
Rapozo said one of his favorite highlights of the year was the March opening of Kaniko’o, also known as Rice Camp Senior Apartments. Phase one provided 60 units of affordable rentals in Lihue.
Phase two, which is scheduled for January or February, will add 30 more units to the apartments.
“The nice thing about this project, is that (it) has two bedroom units, so you can live with your loved one, versus having a service come in and take care of you,” Carvalho said. “You age in place with your loved one. We’ll see how this model works.”
In Princeville, 44 affordable housing rental units were created in 2015 as well. The housing is targeted toward the service workers who live in Princeville, Carvalho said.
“That’s a good one in Princeville,” Carvalho said. “These are the ones that will remain affordable for future generations; it will never go out of affordability.”