Council approves measure, OKs audit

WAILUKU – The Maui County Council voted Friday to conduct a performance audit of the Solid Waste Division in light of what some council members are calling a “crisis” situation created by a reduction in trash collection and landfill services in a clash with Mayor Alan Arakawa over staffing and budgeting for the division.

Council Member Elle Cochran introduced the resolution for the audit in the wake of the decision by the Arakawa administration to nix trash collection on holidays without makeup pickups for many customers and to close all county landfills on holidays and to trim hours. The reductions took effect Aug. 1.

Arakawa has said that services can be restored if the council funds “necessary positions” that would allow landfill operations to remain in compliance with all state and federal regulations. He sent a budget amendment to the council for $239,000 to fill four positions Wednesday.

The audit’s scope and other details will be worked out in the council’s Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee. The resolution approved Friday allows council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa to contract for an independent audit or evaluation of the Department of Environmental Management’s Solid Waste Division.

At the meeting, Cochran fought against the resolution being sent to committee, concerned about the time it would take for scheduling, discussion and deliberations.

“I really truly believe this issue, this matter has to be expedited and dealt with sooner than later,” Cochran said.

The chairwoman of the Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee, whose purview includes the Solid Waste Division, said that she has had a “very difficult” experience getting cooperation from the department. The “gag order” that Arakawa recently imposed on departments, halting direct communication between administration officials and council members, makes it harder to get answers from the department, she said.

“Most of the time I get it straight out of The Maui News,” Cochran said of information about the department. “It has been frustrating. I want to get down to the solution and deal with the crisis . . . and restore services to help people.”

At a meeting earlier this week, council members reported seeing dozens of trash cans on the curb waiting to be picked up on the Labor Day holiday. Cochran said Friday that county budget hearings will begin shortly, and that she does not want the situation replayed.

“I really don’t want to face another mass crisis, whatever you call it, again,” she said. “I want to clear the air right here, right now and see how everything stands with this department.”

In response to the council’s move, Arakawa said Friday that he welcomes the audit because “it will clearly show that the positions we have been asking for are required for the county to avoid possible fines by regulatory agencies.”

“My hope is that the council will pass our original budget request to restore holiday trash pickups and landfill operations as expeditiously as they have moved on the audit,” he said.

Council Member Mike White, chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee, has opposed doling out more county funds for the new positions, saying in a meeting earlier this week that the crisis has been “manufactured by the administration.”

In an interview with The Maui News on Friday, White said that at the beginning of budget deliberations administration officials told the council that it planned to reduce the county workforce by 7 percent through attrition. That never happened, he said.

White indicated that keeping the county workforce manageable is critical because the cost of salaries and benefits will balloon by $42 million by 2017 given current union contracts with the current level of employees.

In addition, White noted that Arakawa signed a contract earlier this year with California-based Anaergia Services to build a waste conversion facility near the Central Maui Landfill. The plant will divert about 85 percent of solid waste from the landfill and is expected to be operational in 2017.

White said that council members originally were told that the new facility would significantly reduce staff.

“Why should we be adding staff in the short term?” he asked.

White said that the administration has the flexibility to “manage its way out” of the reduction in services. In offering some possible solutions, White said that county officials have the ability to shift positions within and between departments.

The council ended up funding two of the six expansion positions sought by the Environmental Management Department, one of which was for the Hana Landfill. While noting that services at the Hana Landfill were reduced despite filling the position, White said that the department could decide to move that position to the Central Maui Landfill for regulation compliance.

The department also could have encumbered funds – before July 1 – from nearly $900,000 in carryover cash from last fiscal year for the positions, he said.

The divisiveness between the council and the mayor has frayed emotions. Arakawa stormed out of Tuesday’s council committee meeting chaired by White after he was not allowed to testify on the trash issue.

“I’m leaving. . . . You could be talking to me directly to find a solution but obviously you don’t want to find a solution,” Arakawa said, interrupting Cochran and forcing a short recess.

“This is why I sat in the (council’s) Budget and Finance Committee meeting (Tuesday) for four hours to assist the council in resolving the issue and answering questions the council members had, but I was refused the opportunity to speak and council members were instructed not to ask me any questions,” Arakawa said Friday. “The community honestly doesn’t care how or who irons out this issue: It needs to be solved as quickly as possible. An audit is a very slow means of addressing the problem, and it runs the risk of wasting precious time before we hit the holiday season in a matter of weeks,” he said.

White said that with the mayor’s restrictive communication directive it is easier to call a hearing to discuss matters with department heads, such with Environmental Management Director Kyle Ginoza on Tuesday. He also said that the administration could have sent the budget amendment straight to his committee instead of the full council to speed up the referral process.

In other council matters Friday, members on second and final reading approved:

* A request by Waiko Industrial Investment to allow for a community plan amendment from agriculture to light industrial and a change in zoning from agricultural district to light industrial district. The land-use measures make way for construction of the 41-lot Waiko Baseyard Light Industrial Subdivision project at East Waiko Road.

* A bill to amend the Affordable Housing Fund for this fiscal year by appropriating $400,000 for the Hale Lokelani Ohana Project to purchase property or build a home for special needs tenants earning 80 percent or below the area median income. The home would accommodate at least five adults with developmental disabilities. Two acres in Waihee have been selected as the home site.

* A measure to prohibit vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of more than 10,000 pounds from traveling on Makaala Drive in Waiehu. Residents in the area are concerned about the excessive, heavy-truck traffic traveling on the highway. An alternate route is available via Waiehu Beach Road and Kahekili Highway.

On first reading council members:

* Gave initial approval amending the Maui County Code regarding signs authorized in airport, hotel/resort, business/commercial, apartment and industrial districts to allow businesses greater flexibility in the location of business identification signs. This will give businesses with entrances not visible from a roadway an opportunity to locate their sign on a wall other than an entrance wall.

* Gave initial approval amending the Maui County Code to reduce the danger, drain of resources and annoyance associated with false alarms; to require alarm (burglar) systems to be registered; and to encourage owners to use and maintain their alarm systems properly. (It does not apply to fire alarms)

These measures need to undergo a second and final approval.

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


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