LIHUE — Kauai County Councilman Ross Kagawa says he isn’t a normal politician.
“Every issue, I give a 120 percent. As a council member, I try to be fair to all the taxpayers,” he said. “When I make a decision, I make a decision based on all the taxpayers as a whole and what I feel is best for the island in my heart.”
Kagawa graduated from Waimea High School in 1984 and graduated with an accounting degree from the University of Hawaii on an athletic scholarship.
Kagawa said he’s most recognized for playing UH baseball, where he was captain during the final two years of his college career.
After college, he worked for a CPA firm then later as a legislative analyst for the Kauai County Council.
“(Being an analyst) gave me a lot of knowledge as far whether I wanted to do it,” Kagawa said. “When I actually got the chance to serve on the council, I think I had an edge as far as knowing what I wanted to accomplish.”
Kagawa said he felt like he needed a career change to fit his personality. He made the switch to education. The UH alumnus has been a teacher at Kapaa High School for 16 years and teaches geometry.
Because of his financial background, Kagawa decided to run for council three and a half years ago to fix the county budget.
“I felt like the county budget had a lot of waste,” he said. “Everybody is struggling out there. We have higher education costs, higher housing costs. We can do a lot more on our part, as a county government, to trim the excess.”
One way to cut costs, Kagawa said, is to reduce county government staff by attrition.
“I hope we can actually look at reducing staff in a way that we’re not cutting more bodies, but I think there is a way we can be more efficient,” he said.
Kagawa suggests replacing manpower with technology in areas such as customer service.
“You can do it online,” he said. “Those are the areas we can look at cutting.”
The councilman is known for opposing tax increases.
“I think I’ve accomplished a lot in that area in bringing more accountability to the county and the taxpayers,” he said.
But Kagawa said he aware that there is a downside when opposing tax and fee increases.
“Without supporting some of those fee increases, there’s less money to pay for roads,” he said. “At some point, we need to start catching up on our roads.”
He noted road problems are islandwide.
“A lot of them by Wailua Homesteads, on the Westside, the roads are in terrible condition,” he said. “If the bridge by Anini collapses, that whole community inside the park would be shut down. That would be disastrous.”
As a last resort, Kagawa said there is room to tax the visitor industry.
“The rates of Kauai for the hotel and visitor industry, I think, are a little below Maui and the City and County of Honolulu,” he said. “With my talks from finance, we can get approximately $12 million.”
Another concern for Kagawa is affordable housing.
“You need the help of the federal government, state government and private sector to make it all happen,” he said. “What we should look at is affordable rentals.”
Allocating money to building rentals instead of affordable homes may help more people, he said.
“It’s so expensive to build an affordable house,” he said. “If you have $2 million to build affordable homes, you might help 10 families.”