Road repair plan won’t go to voters

LIHUE — A resolution that would have let the public vote on how to pay for road repair projects was rejected Wednesday by the Kauai County Council.

The resolution, which proposed creating a County Roads Resurfacing and Reconstruction Backlog Fund, was introduced by Councilman KipuKai Kuali’i in an effort to raise funds for road repair projects.

“When we had the discussion about raising the General Excise Tax, it was made painfully aware of the $100 million of road repair, and the need for the county and administration to find the funds and make them available,” Kuali’i said. “This proposal gives voters the opportunity to mandate that the mayor, the administration and this council set funding aside to address the backlog.”

According to the resolution, 1 percent of the annual real property tax and 6 percent of the annual transient accommodation tax, or TAT, would go into the fund annually, generating about $2 million.

“It’s well short of the amount we need to fully address the backlog, but it’s something that will get us moving further in the right direction,” Kuali’i said.

But, that would mean the county would operate on $2 million less than what it is used to. That is why the council voted 4-3 against the resolution.

“We were only able to cut $355,000 from this year’s budget. So if we were to cut $2 million, the hardship on county employees and on departments would be quite substantial,” said Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura. “Earmarking $2 million isn’t a good option because we haven’t really assessed the impacts on other operations and employees.”

Yukimura, along with Mason Chock, Gary Hooser and Arryl Kaneshiro, voted to deny the resolution.

“Two million dollars doesn’t stop the bleeding,” Yukimura said. “We need $10 million a year, and if we really want to address this problem, we need to do it correctly.”

Because the monies generated for the fund cannot be used for anything else, Kaneshiro said he couldn’t support the resolution.

“I’m not comfortable with tying our hands,” he said.

Reserve policy is key, Kaneshiro added.

“Do we have enough money to cover expenses in (difficult) times. If we have a hurricane, we’re not only going to have to pay for insurance and pay for damages. But we’ll also have decreased home values,” Kaneshiro said. “So if you think about it like that, we want to be sure we have a reserve fund that is established accounts for that kind of stuff.”

That is one of the reasons why the administration did not support the resolution, said Sally Motta, deputy director of finance.

Other intended consequences include a potential increase in real property tax, cuts on goods and services and no real control over the TAT, she said.

A viable option to raise the monies need for the fund is raising the fuel, weight or real property tax, because they are reoccurring sources of revenue, said Wallace Rezentes, managing director.

Raising taxes is what Kuali’i said he is trying to avoid.

“This is about protecting the elderly and struggling families from another regressive tax,” he said.

Kuali’i, along with Mel Rapozo and Ross Kagawa, voted in favor of the resolution.

With proper budgeting, the county will be able to operate without $2 million, Kuali’i said.

“It’s about priorities,” he said. “This is critical and something we have to do. We can start finding the cost savings.”

Rapozo agreed.

“This will force the county to be disciplined,” he said. “It will force us to live within our means.”

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