Council works together to address budget priorities

Council's 3 Minutes

The Maui County Council is completing the budget process and I am proud of the council members’ success at working together as a team to address county priorities.

Our deliberations focused on providing additional support for affordable housing, environmental protection, agriculture and cultural resources. We increased the affordable housing fund to 4 percent of real property tax revenues, added $1 million for new experimental and demonstrative housing projects and added $400,000 to the rental housing fund.

The council also increased funding for homeless programs from $1.7 million to $2.2 million, including $200,000 for a mobile hygiene unit in Central Maui and $50,000 for homeless programs on Molokai.

To address environmental concerns, the council increased funding for watershed protection programs, recognizing the importance of our pristine water sources and our responsibility to protect them for future generations.

To better support agriculture, we added funding for the Hawaii Farmer’s Union United’s Farm Apprentice Mentoring program and the University of Hawaii’s agricultural research programs that directly benefit Maui County farmers. Additional funding was also provided for invasive species programs, including coqui frog eradication efforts.

Recognizing the importance of cultural resources, a county archaeologist position was recently funded. The current process of relying on the state to protect cultural resources and Hawaiian burials is not working.

Cultural assets have been destroyed during grading and grubbing for construction projects, and Hawaiian burials are repeatedly disturbed. Maui County has a responsibility to protect cultural assets, and the archaeologist position will help us fulfill our commitment to preserve and protect what makes our islands’ unique and ensure we pass on to future generations places where history has not been erased by “progress.”

I plan to follow up with legislation to strengthen the protections of cultural resources and burials and close the existing permit loopholes that led to litigation over the Maui Lani development and the desecration of over 700 burial sites.

In looking at the promotion of tourism for Maui County, I provided specific grant funding to address visitor education for the growing number of tourists traveling to Hana. Anyone who has traveled Hana Highway recently has experienced problems with too many cars and inappropriate behavior, where road safety, etiquette and private property boundaries are not respected.

To pay for the programs that support our priorities, the council decreased funding for the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau, increased fees for development permits that are heavily subsidized by general taxpayer dollars, created new studies to look at cost recovery of our permit programs and development impact fees and adjusted property taxes to align them more with other counties.

Looking forward, as chair of the Environmental, Agriculture and Cultural Preservation Committee, I plan to address these issues through new legislation and educational panels. The committee has already worked with the Maui Invasive Species Committee on coqui frog eradication and containment of Miconia and other invasive plants.

The committee members are also discussing environmental legislation to address the problem of single-use plastic products polluting our oceans. Addressing the larger environmental picture, I plan to introduce a charter amendment to create a county office to address climate change, and I introduced the resolution the council adopted on May 17 to join the County Climate Coalition, affiliated with The Climate Reality Project.

We will unveil our new Hawaii Chapter for Climate Reality at the Hawaii State Association of Councils conference June 9-12. The theme for this year’s conference is “Hot Topics in Sustainability.”

The time for addressing these issues has never been more critical, and the upcoming conference is an opportunity for council members, staff and members of the public to become informed. If you would like information about the conference or any county-related issues, please feel free to contact me or my staff at 270-7246.

I look forward to continuing to work with the mayor, my fellow council members and the community on important issues. It’s a team effort, and I recognize that only by working together can we achieve great things.

Me ke aloha nui.

* Shane Sinenci is chairman of the council’s Environmental, Agricultural and Cultural Preservation Committee. He holds the council seat for the East Maui (Hana-Keanae-Kailua) residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

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