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Let’s not waste this crisis

OUR COUNTY

As World War II was finally winding down, Sir Winston Churchill famously said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

When coronavirus arrived here almost a year ago, the pandemic dictated what we could not do. Yet, Maui County turned its attention to what we could do. And together we did plenty.

From Day One, our top priority has been public health and well-being. That meant helping individuals, families and small businesses cope with the pandemic’s sudden financial damage. Even before the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed on March 25, we were actively planning.

With help from the Maui Food Bank, churches, nonprofits, social service agencies, small businesses, farms, ranchers and countless volunteers, together we distributed nearly 8 million pounds of food to Maui Nui residents during 2020. We shored up nonprofit agencies that care for children, the sick, elderly and homeless. With our partner, Maui Economic Opportunity, we distributed $9.5 million to help 12,494 county households pay for essentials.

To assist small businesses, we partnered with the Maui Chamber of Commerce to lend $1.8 million in micro-loans. Our Office of Economic Development supported the popular Pop-up Makeke online marketplace for local products and sponsored E Kupa’a Kakou, a virtual Hawaiian music series honoring the strength of our community. We also funded a new HealthCARES Hui initiative to create jobs, expand food delivery and connect the needy with medical services. With six chartered federal credit unions, we granted $11.175 million through the Kokua Maui County Small Business Recovery & Relief Fund and to boost local commerce, we launched the popular Kamaaina First promotion in June.

In July, the Mayor’s Economic Recovery & Resiliency Task Force first met to consider ways to enhance the economy and recommend best uses for remaining CARES Act funding. We embraced their advice and directed more aid to farmers, ranchers, restaurants, small businesses, social service agencies and families. The Task Force recently reconvened to discuss economic diversification.

Deploying multiple relief efforts simultaneously required a new level of collaboration between my administration, the Maui County Council, agencies, nonprofits, private companies and individuals who stepped up to help. By year’s end, we had successfully allocated all of Maui County’s $67 million in CARES Act funds.

While the community was focused on managing the pandemic, Maui County workers tended to the daily business of service. I am proud the County of Maui never once suspended operations, but I’m even prouder of our significant accomplishments during a daunting year.

With tourism interrupted, our Department of Public Works took advantage of low traffic flow to resurface more than 12 miles of roadway, replace 3,611 linear feet of drainline, build culverts, install multiple speed humps countywide and install rockfall protection in Keanae. We also completed a new $7.9 million Highways Division baseyard on Molokai. With sports suspended, we could finally repave the 51-year old War Memorial Stadium parking lot, add parking stalls, raise sidewalks and improve traffic flow. We completed the long awaited Maui Lani roundabout five months ahead of schedule to alleviate gridlock at a previously congested intersection.

Maui County also acquired the Hawaiian Telcom Buidling in Wailuku as the future home of the Maui Emergency Management Agency and Information Technology services. We purchased 59.3 acres to expand the Maui County Landfill and 5.1 acres be used as a reservoir at Honokowai to expand West Maui’s recycled water system.

We worked very closely with agencies, developers and contractors to add 290 new affordable rental units to the county’s housing inventory before year’s end. We also built temporary housing for the unsheltered in Waiale Park near Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Center and expedited renovation of the old UH-Maui College dorms into 12 two-bedroom affordable rental units.

2020 was a year to remember that many would prefer to forget.

With the recent arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine, Maui County turns its attention to ushering in a “new normal.” Soon we will push the “reset button” and collaborate to build a new economy with a place of dignity for everyone, including Mother Earth. Let’s use this experience to ensure that Maui County comes back stronger and better than ever. We can’t let this crisis go to waste.

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, discusses county issues and activities of county government. The column usually appears on the first and third Fridays of the month.

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