Committee unable to muster votes for emergency funding

Repair work after Iao Valley flooding exceeded initial estimate by $1.2M

A bill for about a $900,000 appropriation to offset costs for emergency repairs related to the September flooding in Iao Valley failed to garner enough votes Wednesday from a Maui County Council committee.

The Budget and Finance Committee voted 4-2 on a measure to allot $910,327 to pay for county costs arising from the flooding that heavily damaged areas along the Wailuku River, tore up Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens parking lot and damaged downstream properties. The money would be in addition to a $5 million emergency appropriation the council approved in October.

County spokesman Rod Antone explained that the county administration needed to return to the council with revised figures to seek full funding for work crews that had been cleaning up after the September flooding. Because work was ongoing in October, the administration did not know the full amount needed to cover the project, he said.

The emergency repair work costs ran about $1.2 million over the $5 million in previously approved emergency funding, but Antone said some of county departments were able to absorb those costs. So, the administration was asking for $900,000 and mainly for the Department of Public Works, which handled much of the work.

As for not receiving the money following Wednesday’s committee vote, Antone said the departments would need to look at their budgets and try to make ends meet. Committee Chairman Riki Hokama said during the meeting that the Public Works Department could come back to the council if it needs money.

On Wednesday, Council Members Elle Cochran and Kelly King voted against the additional emergency funding. In October, Cochran voted against releasing $5 million for the cleanup work. King began her term as a council member in January.

Office of Council Services spokeswoman Kit Zulueta said at least five votes were needed in committee to advance the measure. But, before the full council, seven affirmative votes would be needed, under the County Code, to pass the emergency funding bill, she said.

Council Members Alika Atay and Don Guzman were absent and excused. Council Chairman Mike White left the meeting prior to the vote.

Council members voting in favor of the measure were Bob Carroll, Stacy Crivello, Yuki Lei Sugimura and Hokama.

After the meeting, Cochran said that — just as she had questions about the appropriation in October — she continued to have many “questions going unanswered.” Those included cost breakdowns, work timelines and how much money would be used by various department divisions, she said.

“When I’m asking for more (information), they are not forthcoming,” Cochran said.

“In the end, I would never want to see a department or work going unfunded or gone from the face of the earth,” she said. But “certainly things can be at a standstill in this regard until more information (can be provided and) things are cleared up.”

The Department of Environmental Management had a “nice one-page” summary of its work timeline and how funds were used, she said.

She maintained that her vote was “not to hinder the work this county has to do for this community at all.”

Cochran said she would be open to approving funds if her questions were answered and more information was made available.

During the meeting, King questioned department heads about the outside vendors used for the emergency repairs, and she suggested that having a list would be helpful for council members.

Antone said after the meeting that the county followed appropriate procedures for hiring outside contractors for the emergency work.

“This work had to be done,” he said. “Lives and property were at stake.”

The county has already benefited from the emergency work, not only have flood controls been repaired, but the controls were up and running during heavy rains that hit the island during this past New Year’s celebrations, Antone said.

“It’s a sad message from certain council members, that they don’t support public safety,” he said.

In other business, the committee deferred action on a bill for $150,000 to appraise property and infrastructure owned by Wailuku Water Co. LLC.

The county administration has proposed purchasing approximately 8,764 acres from the company along with the surface water conveyance system. The administration told council members in a letter that a supplemental budget amendment would request money for acquisition costs upon completion of the appraisal.

At a December news conference, the county announced a tentative agreement for the county to pay $9.5 million for Wailuku Water’s ditch system and West Maui Mountains watershed lands.

The administration’s plans call for returning diverted water to Na Wai Eha streams, removing private ownership and improving the efficiency and capacity of the county’s public water system.

Hokama said he planned to have the committee consider the bill before the council’s budget review begins in mid-March.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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