POSTED: 3:30 p.m. HST, Dec 1, 2010
HILO >> A wave of public opposition has prompted the Hawaii County Council to postpone a $56 million bond authorization until the newly elected Council is able to hold a public hearing on the issue.
The Council voted 5-4 Tuesday to hold a public hearing at the call of a new chairman who will be named by the new council that is to be seated next week.
Mayor Billy Kenoi had asked for the bond authorization as a way to stimulate the economy and get projects moving while construction costs and interest rates are low. But 21 people spoke against the bond issue at a hearing Tuesday, compared with only nine who spoke in favor. Twenty-four opponents and two proponents sent letters.
Opponents said the Council shouldn't rush through such a significant expenditure in its last days in office.
"I don't have to remind the Council members this is not their money, and after they leave office they won't be the ones held accountable for the payment of this reckless decision," said Michael Flaherty, of Kailua-Kona.
Construction companies and labor unions spoke in support, as did some residents who wanted projects in their neighborhoods. Leslie Isemoto, president of Isemoto Contracting Co., said his company's payroll has dwindled from more than 400 employees to 130 or so. People need jobs, he said.
That sentiment was echoed by Wallace Ishibashi, business agent for International Longshore & Warehouse Union.
"We need to recognize and take advantage of the opportunities that tough times provide by funding capital improvement projects that will benefit our island now and in the future," Ishibashi said.
Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann said he supports the loan request because the county is now in an "emergency."
Even so, Hoffmann voted for the hearing because his constituents "almost overwhelmingly are telling us, 'Wait a minute, this ain't the right approach."'
"I will adhere and abide by that sentiment," he added.
Hamakua Councilman Dominic Yagong, who is expected to be elected chairman of the new Council, told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald he'll "absolutely" schedule a hearing after Kenoi submits his next operating budget, which is due by March 1.
The county may face a multimillion-dollar deficit due to declining property tax revenues and rising costs for things like labor contracts, and Yagong said the extra time will produce a clearer picture of the county's finances.
Kenoi lamented the council's decision, West Hawaii Today reported.
"It's the council's prerogative and we respect their decision, but it's unfortunate," Kenoi said after the meeting. "A lot of projects would have benefited but there's still a lot of work to do."