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Transportation, housing, counties initiatives advance

CHAIR’S 3 MINUTES

The county Department of Transportation presented the Maui Short Range Transit Plan to the County Council’s Housing, Human Services and Transportation Committee, which I chair, to provide an overview of its operations and services.

A copy of the plan is available on mauicounty.us/hht.

The Maui Bus is 10 years old and it has been a resounding success, utilized by more than 2.5 million riders per year. It has connected our populated districts to visitor attractions and business centers.

More than 75 percent of the ridership utilizes the Maui Bus to get to and from work, and has provided affordable options for many to get to their appointments.

According to the department, ridership feedback continues to be favorable with 85.6 percent of more than 1000 survey respondents indicating the overall service quality as good or excellent.

The committee also received updates from the county’s largest homeless service provider, Ka Hale A Ke Ola, (KHAKO) in addition to initiatives from the county Department of Housing and Human Services.

There are approximately 2,900 sheltered and unsheltered documented homeless individuals in Maui County. With outreach staff estimating that 50 percent of their interactions didn’t want to be surveyed and counted, the actual estimated number of homeless individuals can be over 4,000.

KHAKO’s Wailuku branch currently services 230 residents and its Lahaina branch services 170. These, along with Family Life Center, Mental Health Kokua and Steadfast Housing, add up to a total homeless bed count of 586. That’s 586 of 4,000 homeless individuals we can get off our streets.

With the support of the Maui County Council, the Department of Housing and Human Concerns now has its first homeless program coordinator.

A lot is resting on our coordinator’s shoulders — to have the ability to collaborate with our service providers in addressing the impacts of the growing homeless epidemic, including the safety, health and sanitation concerns in our parks and public facilities.

With a limited affordable housing inventory, we obviously need to build more, but we must also preserve the affordable inventory we have.

Case in point: The Front Street Apartments in Lahaina has 142 affordable units that’s in the process of being converted into market-rate rentals. This would make it unaffordable for the present tenants, many of which will be displaced with the rent hike. I have been working with the administration and our state representatives on legislation to keep these units affordable.

In other news, I would like to provide an update from the Hawaii State Association of Counties, where I serve as president. HSAC represents all four county councils and mayors of the State of Hawaii.

Several bills on the HSAC package continue to advance in the Legislature.

Senate Bill 562 to provide permanent legal immunity for our ocean safety officers was amended to extend the protection until June 30, 2021. When it sunsets, our beach lifeguards will again be exposed to frivolous lawsuits. Why can’t we give those who risk their lives permanent protection each time they respond to a call for help? We will continue to call for a repeal of the sunset date to provide our county lifeguards the same benefit state lifeguards currently have.

Finally, the counties’ fight for a fair share of the transient accommodations tax continues. We are following SB 1290, which has been amended from our preferred 55-45 percent split, to increasing the cap to $108 million and now reducing it back to $103 million.

We support the bill’s original intent of lifting the cap in favor of using a fair formula for the distribution.

Lifting the counties’ TAT cap is lifting the burden unfairly placed on our residents who are paying for county-maintained services visitors are already paying for.

Mahalo nui loa.

* Stacy Crivello is chair of the council’s Housing, Human Services and Transportation Committee and president of the Hawaii State Association of Counties. She holds the council seat for the Molokai residency area. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

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