$24M found in DOW pensions

LIHUE — The Kauai Department of Water pension fund holds $24.6 million, almost all of which is excess funding. That money comes from water service rates and fees, both of which have risen significantly in recent years.

The DOW increased its rates by around half between 2012 and 2014, which was the year water-main hook-up fees were tripled, and an ongoing study commissioned by the water department recommends another 30% rate hike, according to county Planning Department Director Ka‘aina Hull.

Hull sits on the Board of Water Supply, and said during a meeting Friday that it is “entirely unacceptable” to raise user rates while “sitting on $24 million.”

“I don’t know how the council can look at this proposal and not say, ‘enough is enough,’” Hull said. “Either it’s audacious or incredibly naive.”

According to Hull, county government officials and councilmembers have grown increasingly concerned about the lack of accountability at the water department, and said “glaring issues” at the DOW have pushed the board into making a “last-ditch effort” to reign the utility in before councilmembers draft a bill that would allow the county to take over operations.

“It is a very real threat,” Hull told DOW staff. “This is what happens when you’re not subject to legislative scrutiny.”

DOW staff reported the excess revenue to the Board of Water Supply at Friday’s meeting during a presentation asking for permission to keep 20% — around $5 million — of the total in two employee pensions, instead of transferring the entire amount back to the DOW’s general fund.

Hull and another board member, Larry Dill, Kauai district engineer with the state Department of Transportation, asked DOW staff why any of the extra money should remain in the pension funds.

“Basically, you’re telling me we didn’t need to build up that $19.7 million reserve, if you can call it that,” Dill said.

DOW accounting division employees explained the 20% was a necessary buffer to protect against unexpected market volatility. The county does not keep more than a year’s worth of reserves in its pension funds, though DOW pensions have enough extra money for 30 years, according to figures presented by the water department.

Hull appeared dissatisfied with that explanation, and said he is going to be “concerned and, honestly, suspicious,” about future proposals.

According to a 2017 report by the City and County of Honolulu Board of Water Supply, residential monthly water bills on Kauai are dramatically higher than elsewhere in the state. The average homeowner in Kauai County pays $84.55 a month for water. Honolulu residents are second-highest, with an average rate of $66.72, and Hawaii and Maui County averages are both under $60 a month.


Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cloehrer@thegardenisland.com.

  1. Uncleaina January 26, 2020 8:48 am Reply

    You know it gets really old seeing how many dumb mistakes our government makes. So you accidentally have an extra $19,000,000? I mean who actually keeps track of the money collected by the water department anyway? It’s just a minor error of millions of dollars – nothing shady. Well a little math says that extra money will pay the average monthly rate of 175,000 homeowners for a month or 17,500 homeowners for 10 months. I don’t see any reason Kaua’i residents need to be paying *anything* for a while, let alone an increase. Our leaders can’t even run a basic spreadsheet of money in vs money out – it’s like we’re governed by middle school kids. Wonder what their next failure will be.

  2. curious dog January 26, 2020 9:09 am Reply

    Gee, the wettest place on Earth pays the most money in the state for…WATER.

    How Ironic.

  3. billyjoebob January 26, 2020 11:15 am Reply

    Wow, keep it up and eventually DOW can pay the 100 million for the school air conditioners that don’t work.

  4. Animals January 26, 2020 7:19 pm Reply

    Animals forum the farm on Kauai.

    You can’t get a better example than what’s been exposed through recent audits.

  5. Citizen Cane February 1, 2020 8:52 am Reply

    All I know is last time I went into the new water dept. building I thought, wow, they really spent some money on this new facility. Seemed a little over the top for a public utility. THEN I tried to get some service(!) There were several windows, but only one was open—everyone seemed to be on a break, or talking with co-workers, while the line was long and not moving. I got frustrated seeing all the “help” inside ignoring all the waiting customers, and left 20 mins. later, unhelped, and angry. Now we find out the same people that spent lavishly on new digs but can’t promote a culture of decent customer service is also busy feathering it’s retirement nest? Reminds me of our inappropriate, overbuilt, palatial too-big-for-Kauai Courthouse and the fort Knox, imposing, hard-to-access take-a-number and wait half an hour KPD building—both over-spent funds that could have been used to improve our roads and traffic! Who’s been making these decisions? Looks like the Water Dept. would be a good place to start holding some people accountable.

  6. Aloha April 23, 2020 8:54 pm Reply

    Great Article! Please re-post on all platforms during quarantine… hope more people will read!

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