People often ask, what exactly do the seven Kauai councilmembers actually do? How many hours per week do they work? What do they get paid?
The short answer is that if a councilmember can get elected and reelected, they can do most anything they want. They can show up when they want, vote when they want, meet with constituents when they want — or not.
Some will work the proverbial 24/7, attending their one formal council/committee meeting each Wednesday, then also attending countless evening community events, as well meeting one-on-one with constituents, their colleagues and council staff.
Others will do very little. Some are known to miss many, if not most of the “formal” weekly meetings and rarely if ever attend community events.
Some will study the issues, research solution alternatives and propose “bills” that attempt to deal with the issue and improve the situation. Others will never introduce anything other than perhaps those measures submitted “by request” on behalf of the administration.
The Kauai County Council is clearly governed by the “Pareto principle.”
The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few…) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. — Wikipedia
In defense of the “slacker 80%,” they either feel like “everything is OK,” “this is the state/federal governments responsibility” or “my job is to simply vote yes to balance the budget, and vote no on raising taxes.”
With their new raises going into effective on Dec. 1, 2020, councilmembers will be paid $67,956 a year with the Chair making $76,452. Most have second full-time jobs, paying them a second full-time salary.
In theory, the residents of Kauai evaluate and judge the performance of the various councilmembers, every two years when they are up for reelection.
Kudos are due to the council (or at least to the 20% who initiated the action) for several measures that have been introduced and passed, that will positively impact the availability of affordable housing: Expanding the Guest House rules, incentives for Affordable Rental Units (ARUs) and tweaks to the Tiny Homes permitting requirements.
But clearly we need more. Much more.
After brainstorming with family and friends, here is a short list of other items, our Kauai County Council could also be addressing . All are “doable.” Some require funding, but none require “big money” that might be beyond the capacity of Kauai County.
The below of course is not all-inclusive list, and I encourage readers to add or delete to this list as they see fit. Write out your own issue priorities and possible solutions, and then send them to a Councilmember or two, or three, or all seven – then meet with them and perhaps offer to help.
w Affordable Housing
Aggressive incentives for homeowners who build an additional rental unit (ARU), and rent it at affordable rates.
County funded water and sewer infrastructure development in areas already zoned for urban/residential development, but remain under-developed due to the lack of public infrastructure.
Implementation of the traffic improvement plan supported by Kapaa Business Association, written years ago but never implemented. Include a “local traffic only” connector road between Wailua Houselots and existing Kapaa bypass.
Aggressive lobbying of state government to widen Kuhio highway adding a fourth lane from the Wailua River, north to existing Kapaa bypass road.
w Drug Use
Increase support for addiction treatment – both in-patient and out-patient.
Support expansion of youth sports, arts, and academic, after-school programs.
w Beach Parks
Improve park maintenance and cleanliness by highlighting and honoring park employees, who will “own” the parks they maintain. Create community partnerships between park users and park maintenance staff.
Develop a publicly accessible commercial kitchen at Kauai Community College to support the production of added-value agricultural products.
Expand ability of farmers to construct farm-worker housing. Include prohibitions on short-term rentals.
Require public areas (parks, government building greenways, highway shoulders etc) to include “food forest” type trees — ulu, mango, avocado, etc.
Prohibit herbicide use on County property similar to existing Department of Education ban, and proposed regulations being considered for Hawaii County.
Electric vehicles – Mandate 100% electric vehicles for all “regular” County vehicles phased in over 10 years (exceptions for construction equipment or special needs).
Ban construction of new public buildings in areas susceptible to sea level rise.
Ban single use, non-compostable polystyrene fast food containers and other single use plastics.
Where does the money come from?
For capital improvements (lasting 30 years or more), funding is possible via “bonds” (County borrows the money). Bond repayment comes from “connection and use fees” for new water and sewer infrastructure. In addition, as new residential development “fills in” as a result of the county provided infrastructure, the county will receive future increased property tax revenue, from the previously undeveloped (but zoned) parcels.
For expanded programs and ongoing operations, funding can come from a combination of affordable user fees and increased property tax on hotel/resort properties, vacant investor owned residential properties valued over $1 million and very high value residential properties valued over $5 million.
For context, Honolulu taxes hotel/resort properties at $13.90 per $1,000 while Kauai charges the lowest rate of all the counties at only $10.85 per $1,000.
Note: When government tells you “there’s no money,” what they’re really saying is “it’s not a priority.”
The above is but the starting point of a conversation. Readers are encouraged to communicate directly with councilmembers and to the mayor. Share with them your ideas, and ask them to share theirs.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.