Kanuikapono Public Charter School students Ava Meek and Tapa Andrade came away impressed with what they heard from Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami in his State of the County address on a sunny Thursday morning.
That the mayor said he wanted to build a skate park and playground for keiki, promote youth entrepreneurship and give youth a great future, had them smiling.
“I liked the inclusiveness with the youth,” Meek said. “I think it’s very important that we think about the generations that are going to be after us.”
Meek said she’s been concerned there are fewer places for youth to hang out and some of the county’s parks are in worse shape than in years past.
“I’m worried that the generations after me aren’t going to get to experience them the way I experienced them,” she said. “I’m glad that he’s addressing that.”
Andrade said he was glad to hear the mayor spend a good deal of time talking about improving public transportation and being energy efficient. He also appreciated what he said about connecting with youth and creating more opportunities for them.
“I think it would be very good if he could get all of the facilities that we need,” Andrade said.
In a 35-minute talk before about 150 people, Kawakami outlined his first 100 days in office, his proposed budget and his goals for the road ahead as this island’s highest-elected leader.
He addressed two guiding principles for his administration: guardianship, taking care of what they have; and innovation, finding new ways to modernize their systems or processes to create efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
During his first 100 days in office, Kawakami’s administration conducted a housing summit last month, transmitted communication to the County Council for a request to conduct performance audits, and addressed the number one complaint voiced by customers who wait in line to pay for their motor vehicle registrations.
Budget priorities for the 2020 fiscal year include affordable housing, roads and transportation, and park improvements.
In the crowd were Kawakami’s wife, Monica, Bernard Carvalho Jr., Kauai’s previous mayor of 10 years, and Capt. Vinnie Johnson, commander of Pacific Missile Range Facility,
”We know there is lots of work to do,” Kawakami said at the Lihue Civic Center, Mo‘ikeha Courtyard. “There are parks to clean, potholes to fill, and homes to build. However, I need to be clear. I cannot do it alone. We can only do it, if we are working together as one — one county. One community. One people united in our pursuit to set aside our differences, and rise as one.”
Many applauded the mayor throughout his talk. In the background, high above on banners, were the words, “Mobility,” “Home,” “Connections,” “Money,” “Freedom,” and “Heart,” which referred to Kawakami’s “Six Levels of Rise.”
“Our island is at a crossroads,” he said. “Our desire to keep our Kauai way of life must be met with a progressive approach as the world changes around us. We know the challenges. We have a growing population, overused infrastructure, and crowded roads.”
He said he will submit his budget to the County Council today and called it the “first step in laying the track to achieve our goals.”
He will be proposed an operating budget of $242 million and a Capital Improvement Budget of $36 million. While the operating budget is far higher than last year’s $214 million, he pointed out that $24 million of the new budget is from anticipated revenues from the half percent general excise tax increase authorized by the County Council that took effect Jan. 1. Those funds are earmarked for bus service, repairing potholes, and fixings roads.
The bottom line of that proposed budget, he said, is that it will not raise tax rates on homes, it will not raise user fees, and the county will not borrow more money for CIP projects.
Real property taxes are projected to contribute roughly $144 million in revenues.
“Let’s be clear,” he said. “After salaries and wages, utilities, fuel and insurance, we have only 29 percent of our revenue to pay for maintaining roads, cleaning parks, and building bus stops.”
He warned that future increases, however, might be necessary.
“We must continue to evaluate our fee revenues to match our increasing maintenance costs,” he said.
Kawakami also focused on youth, calling them his “highest priority,” and said creation of a skate park and an “inclusive playground for all children” were among his goals. He said an Adolescent Treatment and Healing Center will be opening on Kauai this year.
“If we aren’t caring for our youth, we aren’t doing our jobs,” he said. “That goes for each and every adult here today, no matter what you do for a living. Everything that we do is to help the next generation have a fighting chance, and they need us now more than ever.”
He said that last year, one in 11 Kauai teenagers attempted suicide. In response, he joined other community leaders to form the Kauai Resilience Project to try and figure out why youth were losing hope.
With the help of the Kauai Action and Planning Alliance, Hawaii Community Foundation, and the Youth Resilience Committee, they went out to hear from teens directly about their needs.
“They have ideas of how they want to change our island,” he said “They are ready to rise and it’s time their voices are heard.”
In closing, Kawakami said he was “the luckiest guy on Earth.
“Because I wake up every day on this beautiful island we call home and I work alongside a dedicated group of public servants and partners. And every day that we show up, we will strive, and then, we will rise a little higher.”
Leonard Peters, who works for the county with The Kauai Bus, said he found the mayor’s speech, “inspiring.”
“The plan he has for the county, it’s exciting,” Peters said. “It’s exciting to be part of this.”
Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.