EDITOR'S NOTE - This is the third in a series of stories covering contested legislative and County Council seats leading up to Saturday's primary election. Winners in primary races will advance to the Nov. 6 general election.
WAILUKU - Two Maui entrepreneurs have their eyes set on incumbent County Council Member Mike Victorino's job.
Joseph G. Blackburn II
Michael P. Victorino*
Political hopefuls Lisa Gapero and Joe Blackburn II say they'd like to see the county run more like a business.
Victorino, 59, has held the council's Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu residency seat since 2007 and says he still has much to accomplish as he seeks re-election.
"My mission is still incomplete. There's much more that needs to be done to ensure the future of Maui - countywide," Victorino said. "The opportunity to make Maui a better place is today, and I'm working hard to make sure it happens today."
Gapero, 62, a retired businesswoman, is challenging Victorino for a second time. She lost the 2010 general election with just 23 percent of votes to Victorino's 64 percent. (The remaining 13 percent were blank votes.)
Gapero says she believes she can do a better job than Victorino, and touts her business background for giving her strong budgeting skills.
"My residency seat, Wailuku, is not being served by the incumbent, and I think it's time for change and time to get some new blood in there," Gapero said. "I bring fiscal responsibility in being able to balance a budget."
Blackburn, 60, a retired fire rescue captain for the county, is also vying for the seat. He believes his years served in Maui's Police and Fire departments gives him an edge in dealing with county issues.
"For 32 years, I was serving the public in departments that I'll be asked to make decisions about," Blackburn said.
He now runs a small business that manages homeowners and community associations and said he was motivated to run for office after seeing many of his clients experiencing financial hardships.
"My wife, Shirley, said you need to step up if you're going to grumble," Blackburn said. "I think the council is lacking in common sense and long-term vision."
The county's budget and taxpayer dollars are top of mind for all three candidates.
The County Council in June approved a $549.9 million budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. It includes hikes in property taxes, water rates and some bus fares.
Victorino said the cost of providing core county services doesn't come cheap.
"We are still recovering as revenue streams have been lessened, and the cost for core services - fire, police and others that you aren't charged upfront for - comes to $3,311 per resident per year," he said. "Would you rather pay a little more and know it's there, or pay less and hope that these services will be there?"
Victorino noted that the council is working to "lessen the burden on taxpayers." He said members are in the process of placing the county's so-called special revenue funds from the state into bonds to help save up to $4 million on interest payments. Those special revenue funds, he said, are often used for county water projects.
Blackburn said he would like to see better accounting of businesses and organizations that receive funding from the county.
"If you're getting county money, I want to see your financials and how you're providing services and serving residents," he said. "Taxpayer money is just too valuable."
He'd also like to see any budget surpluses - whether from county departments or private businesses and nonprofits - turned back in to the county at the end of each fiscal year.
"In the county, if you have money left at the end of the fiscal year, the current practice is that you spend it. I'd like to get away from that 'use it, or lose it' thought process," Blackburn said. "My idea is, if you have money left and turn it in, you can get a portion of it back to use."
Gapero said she too wants to see more oversight of county grant money.
"I'd like to see that scrutinized and audited to ensure that there is no duplication," she said. "Maybe some of these services could be streamlined."
She also said, "I don't think raising taxes is the answer to everything."
Victorino and Blackburn said they recognize the need for Maui's economy to expand beyond tourism.
"We do need to support the hospitality industry because it's our economic engine," Victorino said. "But we also need to start taking the steps to provide job growth in other areas such as sustainable energy, high technology, sustainable agriculture and the medical field."
Blackburn added: "We need to look for something besides just tourism to give us another leg to stand on. Maybe it's a biofuel industry to replace our agricultural industry in the future."
The three candidates also agree that management of Maui's water resources is a big issue as the island's population continues to grow.
The county has a waiting list of more than 1,400 applicants seeking water meters Upcountry. The Department of Water Supply has said it needs to acquire essential backup for its systems before meters can be issued.
"I'd like to see us get rid of that waiting list for water meters," Gapero said. "I don't know the full brunt of the issue, but it seems it's gone on for too long, and it just seems cruel."
Victorino noted that the council last year approved reopening the Hamakuapoko wells for agricultural uses, public consumption during droughts, and as a backup for the Upcountry water system. The wells were banned in 2006 over concerns about pesticide-tainted water.
"We were able to bring back a water source that can help people Upcountry get their water meters and build their homes," he said.
He also said some of his work as chairman of the council's Water Resources Committee has helped the county's Department of Water Supply better function.
"We were able to put all the water rules in order so that now the Water Department can function more cohesively - moving them from a board-based entity to administrative rules," Victorino said. "It took almost four years."
Blackburn said he thinks the county's 5-year-old "Show Me the Water" ordinance is doing more harm than good to the "little guys."
The law requires developers to first prove to the county that they have a long-term source of water in place before being allowed to build.
"The original intent, I think, was good . . . but the way it's written basically lets the developers who have the money put in a private water system, while the little guys, who can't afford to lay down infrastructure, are stuck," Blackburn said. "The community suffers."
Voters on Saturday will decide which two candidates will advance to the general election.
County Council members are elected on at-large basis to represent the county as a whole, which means all county voters can cast votes for all seats on the council.
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at email@example.com.
Maui county council
Joseph G. Blackburn II
Born: July 31, 1952; Honolulu
Education: Master's degree in higher education, University of Hawaii, 1999; bachelor of science in Fire Services Administration, Western Oregon State College, 1990; bachelor of science in Business Administration, California State University at Chico, 1974
Community involvement: Head coach Wailuku Wolfpack Menehune Basketball Team; member county Board of Variances and Appeals; past chairman Maui Local Emergency Planning Committee; member of the Realtors Association of Maui; and member of the former Disaster Medical Assistance Team, Pacific Regional Response Team
Family: Married, three children
Born: Nov. 27, 1949; Honolulu
Education: Attended College of the Albemarle, Elizabeth City, N.C.; bachelor of arts degree in Interdisciplinary studies, human relations in organizations, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Community involvement: American Cancer Society; Habitat for Humanity; Waiehu Kou II Community Association; Maui Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce; Phi Theta Kappa, Rotary Sunset Club
Michael P. Victorino*
Born: Aug. 24, 1952; Hilo
Education: Hawaii Community College, 1970-1973; Maui Community College
1973 - 1975
Community involvement: Maui Fair, chairman, 1997-2005, currently serving as adviser; state deputy for the Knights of Columbus, 2007 to present; Maui Economic Development Board, 2009 to present; Maui Economic Concerns of the Community (Homeless Resource Center), 2008 to present; State Commission of Gender Equity, 2000 to present
Family: Married, two children