Grant limits eyed for Kekaha projects

KEKAHA — Grant limits could be placed on a $200,000 county allocation distributed to Kekaha residents.

Thomas Nizo, vice-chair for the Kekaha Host Community Benefit – Citizens Advisory Committee, said setting limits is necessary to avoid draining a benefit fund that supports a multitude of projects in Kekaha.

“That money isn’t infinite,” he said. “There’s other things we need to invest in.”

Youth organizations see the bulk of a $193,934 Kekaha community allocation, according to county officials.

In 2008, the County Council created the benefits fund and initially allocated $650,000 to compensate the Kekaha community for having the island’s landfill located nearby.

The program receives $2.38 per ton annually. The landfill had about 81,000 tons of material during fiscal year 2017. The money funds a host of projects that benefit Kekaha residents.

“They are empowered to set their own grant guidelines,” according to a statement from the Office of Economic Development. “We expect that each grant program will have different guidelines that fit the purpose of the funding.”

Funds support programs focused on several areas, including economic revitalization, sustainability, human services, youth and health.

The most ambitious project to date — the Kekaha photovoltaic project — saw 200 Kekaha homes installed with photovoltaic systems, Nizo said.

“It’s one of those projects when you invest it in, it’s going to keep on giving back,” he said. “That’s one of those sustainability/community involvement projects. In my eyes, it hits both categories.”

The bulk of the initial $650,000 allocation in 2008 funded the solar project.

NBC Basketball and Volleyball Camps have also been recipients of the allocation, which saw about $80,000 to $85,000 in the past five years, said Kekaha resident Josh Burton.

Burton, the organizer for the camps, opposes a cap on grants.

“There’s a lot of great programs needing financial assistance and by putting a cap it could hinder the program’s outcome,” he said. “There is monies coming in every year and only Kekaha residents can benefit from the grant. It’s not like the organizations that are applying for grants are competing with a larger applicant base. It’s only Kekaha residents/organizations.”

Out of 136 Kekaha families surveyed in 2016, 89 supported programs involving Kekaha Neighborhood Center and Faye Park, 37 for renewable energy projects and 28 for youth programs.

“We want to provide programs for these youth, so they can have a better future and be passionate about what they do in life,” Burton said. “Once you stop playing sports, then they’re idle. That’s an opportunity for them to get into trouble.”

Though he supports youth programs, Nizo said he would like to see community members put their time and efforts into other projects that will keep money in the community.

“It’s not about not giving you guys money. It’s about putting a place marker and actually putting up a red flag, telling the county, ‘We need this,’” he said. “Until somebody actually proposes a project for a (sports complex), it’s never going to happen. I’m just trying to be proactive in this whole process.”

A Kekaha citizen’s advisory committee meeting is slated for May 22 at the Kekaha Neighborhood Center.

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