Funding for new county building advances

WAILUKU – A new county office building on the old Wailuku Post Office site moved a step closer to being built as a Maui County Council committee recommended approval of $1.5 million for planning and design.

The council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Tuesday also deferred action on a $6.5 million request for general obligation bonds to be floated to be used for the acquisition of 186 acres in Launiupoko for a proposed beachfront parkway from Puamana to the pali. Committee Chairman Mike White sought a site visit for the area, and council members expressed concerns about possible conflicts involving Native Hawaiian kuleana rights for the property.

The funds would be half of the $13 million price tag to buy the property from Makila Land Co. The other half would come from the county’s Open Space Funds.

The committee also deferred action on a $3.25 million request for the new Kihei Police Station, with White wanting more time to review the request and to ask more questions of the Police Department.

In explaining the administration’s request for $1.5 million in design and planning funds for the new county building, Managing Director Keith Regan said that the county will reap millions of dollars in savings by not having to pay rent when the building is completed. The county would save about $1.8 million per year by moving some departments into the new building at the old Wailuku Post Office site, Regan said.

The new building is the first part of the county administration’s proposed plans to expand the Kalana O Maui campus in Wailuku. The overall plans include renovations to the Kalana O Maui building and the Kalana Pakui annex, adding buildings and parking spaces and putting in special landscaping and architectural features.

Committee Vice Chairman Riki Hokama asked Regan about whether other options have been explored. He suggested that the county buy the nearby One Main Plaza building, which currently houses some county offices, and then sell it to fund new projects such as a new county building.

Regan said that the administration had explored that option. In fact, Regan said that after One Main Plaza owners found out about the county’s plans to build, they approached the county about selling the building for $28.7 million.

He said the purchase wouldn’t be a wise investment because the offer is in the ballpark of the estimated $29.6 million for the new county building and other initial parts of the expansion plan. One Main Plaza, which was built in 1989, also would need upgrades and repairs and noncounty tenants may be holding long-term leases.

Mayor Alan Arakawa weighed in at Tuesday’s meeting and noted how the county had an opportunity years ago to purchase One Main Plaza for about $11 million but didn’t. Even if the building was offered at the previous price, Arakawa said he would not buy it because the county needs to design its own facility and because of the age of One Main Plaza.

Hokama voted to recommend approval of the funding through general obligation bonds but expressed his concerns about the uncertainties at the state and federal legislative levels. He noted the federal sequester set to take effect Friday.

“I have no clue what our county will be (like) after Saturday morning,” Hokama said, alluding to the sequester.

The bill, approved on a 7-0 vote with Council Members Robert Carroll and Gladys Baisa excused, now moves to the full council for approval.

The Police Department was seeking $3.25 million in bond funds for a radio tower, amplifiers and other needs to complete the new Kihei station, which Assistant Chief Lawrence Hudson said was on schedule to open Oct. 1.

Budget Director Sandy Baz explained that the $3.25 million wasn’t technically additional funding because the County Council had approved $37 million for the project, which came in for bid at $27 million. Hudson said that the funds requested Tuesday were for equipment not included in the initial request.

Baz said that the project was funded by a $20 million bond and a $17 million U.S. Department of Agriculture loan, which the county has let lapse. Although the loan money still can be secured, Baz said that the administration would rather use the county’s own good bond rating to borrow money at a lower rate.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at