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On the path to a ‘new normal’

Council’s 3 Minutes

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way the world operates. The disruption in our social, economic and daily lives is clearly evident, but so are our adaptability and resilience as a community.

From the council’s perspective, we will make adjustments where we can, so that the work of serving the county can continue without interruption. We are now videoconferencing our meetings in order to adhere to social distancing requirements. This has opened the door for many of you to engage in the political process without leaving the comfort and safety of your homes.

For the first time in Maui County’s history, and maybe this country’s history, the fiscal year budget session was conducted entirely online. It was a challenging task at first, but meeting these challenges is essential to ensuring our county runs smoothly.

I want to thank my colleagues on the council for embracing these new procedures, as well as the public for their patience and participation. Much credit goes to Economic Development and Budget Committee Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez for being our telecommunications trailblazer, along with her ingenious staff who shepherded us through the process.

The fiscal year 2021 budget is expected to be considered for first reading on May 22, and for second and final reading at the council meeting on June 5. The council cut about $50 million from the mayor’s proposed budget by eliminating expansion and vacant positions, limiting travel expenses, reducing new equipment purchases and deferring some projects.

Some of the budget highlights include funding for affordable homes and homeless resource centers; major infrastructure improvements and measures to relieve traffic congestion; the management and eradication of invasive species; and emergency relief programs.

In addition, the council’s budget proposes grants and loans to incentivize farmers and ranchers to support food security, as well as expand and strengthen a sustainable and diverse agricultural industry. Sustainable ag is one of several promising industries that eventually could help eliminate our over-reliance on tourism.

During the council’s budget deliberations, the issue of economic recovery was raised many times. Many people are out of work or struggling to stay in business. We see you, and we hear you.

There are multiple resources available in the community if you need support. We have compiled a list of tools and programs at mauicounty.us/community/covid-19-resources.

Together, we will get through this difficult and uncertain time.

As a community, we also have an opportunity to define the “new normal” in Maui County. Recently, I initiated a survey on Facebook asking residents what this new normal might look like. There were over 200 responses, with tourism being the hottest topic among all the entries, followed by agriculture and governance.

Other key concerns were social services, transportation, economic development, housing, health and the environment. This feedback speaks to the importance of working toward a future that is sustainable in every respect.

I am proud that on April 17 the council unanimously passed Bill 52 to prohibit most food providers from selling, using, providing or offering for use plastic disposable foodware as of Jan. 1, 2022. This measure, now enacted as Ordinance 5084, follows the countywide ban on polystyrene foam food containers and plastic bags, and further establishes Maui County as a leader in environmental sustainability.

In these rapidly changing times, the council is committed to keeping up the pace. You can help us by continuing to share your input and priorities. As we move forward and beyond present challenges, the strength of our community lies within each other.

* Alice L. Lee is chairwoman of the Maui County Council. She holds the council seat for the Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters and appears on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month.

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