LIHUE — Affordable housing and responsible government spending are the main concerns among members of the Kauai County Council, as they look forward to the new year.
The Garden Island asked council members about their priorities, vision and goals for 2019. This is what they said.
“There’s a lot of challenges ahead, but we’re making strides,” said Councilman Arthur Brun.
Like the other council members, Brun said the primary goal is housing. According to Brun, the council is looking ways to get kitchens in guest houses, making them a viable place for a family to live.
As the newly appointed chair of the Parks &Recreation/Transportation Committee, Brun said he intends to “get our parks up to speed” by cleaning up public bathrooms at the island’s beach parks. “We just gotta find out what’s wrong,” he said.
Brun said he also thinks he can find a way to make the bus system more efficient. He said he and other members of the committee will be working to implement the recommendations of a recent transportation study.
Brun hopes the new year will be one in which the new council can come together after a particularly contentious and divisive election season. The most important thing for 2019, according to Brun — “Working together to get things done.”
Councilwoman Felicia Cowden plans to focus on helping people marginalized by society.
Cowden said her biggest goal is to stabilize the lives and existences of people who are struggling to fulfill their most basic needs, from housing to mental health.
“I want to help everyone,” she said. “But I think if we have less people struggling hard, that’s good for everybody.”
Like Brun, Cowden also pointed to the island’s housing crisis as an issue the council must face in the coming year. “It is critical that we deal with affordable housing,” Cowden said, pointing out that when a significant portion of the population is housing insecure, it can have a destabilizing effect on the society as a whole.
Infrastructure was another issue Cowden listed among her highest priorities. “Our infrastructure is old, and it’s causing problems,” she said.
The Public Works Department is working on an islandwide sewer system review, expected to be completed in five years. In a briefing to the council earlier this month, public works officials said they will be looking for a big increase in their department’s annual budget in anticipation of necessary repairs.
Councilman Luke Evslin also listed housing as the most important issue facing the county and the council.
Evslin spoke about his plans for the new year during a phone interview, as he rushed to get ready to catch a plane for some holiday travel on New Year’s Eve. “I’m actually shaving right now,” he said when answering the phone.
“My main priority has been housing all through the campaign,” Evslin said, and he intends to continue his focus in that area. Evslin said he and other council members are working to make changes that will reduce housing costs and make it easier to add auxiliary units to existing homes.
Evslin said he has also become concerned about how tourism is affecting the island and intends to look for ways to better manage the impact of tourism on the county’s beach parks.
“I’m optimistic that we’re going to work well together,”
Evslin said he is looking forward to cooperating with his fellow council members and thinks the new year will be a productive one. “I’m optimistic that we’re going to work well together,” he said.
“For me the biggest responsibility is the budget,” Councilman KipuKai Kualii said.
He spoke about the importance of limiting taxes to people on the lower end of the financial spectrum and protecting their investment through responsible government spending.
Kualii said he plans to ask tough questions when it comes time for budget deliberations and push for additional budget provisos to give council members as much information about how and why expenditures are made.
Salaries are another part of the budget Kualii said he wants to keep an eye on. He expressed concern that a gap is widening between the lowest paid government employees, “who provide the majority of the services,” and high-ranking county officials, many of whom earn salaries over $100,000 a year.
Kualii also talked about taking a closer look at how certain state taxes — like the general excise and transient accommodation taxes — affect those on the lower end of the financial spectrum.
Housing and traffic were among the other issues he mentioned as important for the council to address in 2019. “If we can improve housing we can improve the lifestyles of a whole lot of people,” he said.
A game of phone tag with Councilman Mason Chock did not end successfully in time to include his comments in this article.
Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro and Vice Chair Ross Kagawa did not respond to repeated requests for comment.