LIHUE — In a speech marked by energy and optimism, Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr. delivered his eighth State of the County address Thursday, acknowledging strides made in the past year and looking ahead to a vibrant future.
Covering recent successes, as well as a diverse range critical issues facing the county, Carvalho emphasized continued fiscal responsibility and collaboration as keys to the community’s success.
“Our focus has been on re-engineering county government … making systemic changes that have resulted in greater efficiency and lower fixed costs, creating a pathway toward greater sustainability,” Carvalho said.
About 150 residents, community leaders, political dignitaries, and county employees attended the 60-minute event at the civic center in Lihue.
He spoke often of his commitment to the people of Kauai and Niihau, keiki to kupuna.
“It’s all about us working together to accomplish things that benefit our community,” he said.
Megan Delacruz of Eleele, who attended the address with a group of her peers from the YMCA Alii Wahine Leadership Program, liked what she heard.
“It was clear to me that the mayor is a family-orientated man who cares deeply about our community,” the 16-year-old said. “I really liked that he is involved in so many issues like transportation and the economy — stuff that we all care and think about.”
Earlier this week, Carvalho released his preliminary 2016-17 budget of $188.8 million that represents a $7.1 million (4.1 percent) increase over the current year.
A significant portion of the budget increases are necessary to fulfill mandatory expenses attributed to negotiated labor contract increases, he said.
According to the mayor’s office, the county has budgeted an additional $5.2 million in the upcoming fiscal year for higher salaries. To an extent these increases can be offset, the mayor said, “by continuing to make changes that promote greater efficiency.”
The proposed budget is also buoyed by healthy property growth over the past year. Projected new revenue from new property taxes in the upcoming year is $6.46 million, an increase of 5.7 percent.
Those anticipated revenues come thanks largely due to solid growth in the commercial and tourism industries, with estimated new taxes from those sectors at $1.8 million, while property taxes from hotel and receipts are expected to contribute an additional $1.49 million to the budget.
Carvalho said he was “very disappointed” with a loss of about $50 million in state transient accommodation tax revenues over the past five years as a result of the legislative-imposed cap on the county’s share of those funds.
“These actions at the state level have created immense financial challenges for the county,” Carvalho said.
Meantime, however, the mayor said he appreciates local authority granted by the Legislature to impose a 0.5 percent surcharge on the state general excise tax in the upcoming year to address the backlog in road and bridge repairs and expand transit services. The county is considering increases in GET funding.
Raising the GET by a half-percent would generate roughly $20 million per year over 10 years with about 75 percent earmarked for road infrastructure and other transportation improvements.
“By taking advantage of the increased GET funding opportunity we would be able to address the public’s No. 1 priority that we all continue to hear so much about: improvements to our roads, bridges and the alleviation of traffic congestion,” Carvalho said.
Carvalho said he remains committed to maximizing government efficiency, continuing to place a high interest on public safety and building the strongest municipal workforce possible by attracting a world-class workforce.
“Our progress in advancing a long-term financial plan solidifies the county’s commitment and sets the pathway to achieving long-term sustainability,” the mayor said. “We are collectively responsible for delivering vital government services within the limits of our financial resources.”
Long-time Kauai resident Ellen Ching of Wailuh said she was impressed by the mayor’s continued commitment to the community and the people he serves.
“Mayor Carvalho is a man with 20th century values and a 21st century vision,” Ching said. “He continues to embrace the future and that is so important to the health of our community.”