WAILUKU - Dealing with a potential loss in federal funds in the wake of U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye's death, speeding up the county's permitting process and finishing up the General Plan are just some of the issues that the Maui County Council will take on this year, said Gladys Baisa, the Maui County Council's new chairwoman.
Baisa said she is "really concerned" about how the loss of Hawaii's longtime senior senator will or will not impact federal dollars coming to the county level.
"We need to plan. . . . I'm really concerned about that," Baisa said after the council's first regular meeting of the year Friday morning in the Council Chambers.
GLADYS BAISA, Maui County Council’s new chairwoman
Baisa added that it's too early to tell if Inouye's Dec. 17 death will impact the county this year or next and in what ways. Inouye helped Maui County with much federal funding over the years including recently for Maui buses and highways.
Although Inouye is gone, along with longtime Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, who retired, Baisa was still optimistic about how all the changes in government at the federal and state level could help Maui County. Baisa is pleased that her former colleague at Maui Economic Opportunity and longtime state Rep. Joe Souki is again state House speaker.
"I'm very excited to work with him as well," said Baisa. "He'll be a strong advocate (for Maui County)."
Even though former Maui state Sen. Shan Tsutsui is no longer state Senate president, she is pleased that Tsutsui is now the lieutenant governor. He is in his new post because of the domino effect of appointments and vacancies resulting from Inouye's death.
Baisa said that Tsutsui on the opening day of the state Legislature on Wednesday was welcoming and offered his office as a place for Maui lawmakers to use as a home away from home.
At the county level, Baisa said Maui has a lot to gain from Council Member Riki Hokama being second vice president of the National Association of Counties, which has connections and meets with the heads of federal government agencies and departments. Hokama was absent from Friday's regular full council meeting because he is on his way to President Barack Obama's inauguration Monday in Washington, D.C.
At Friday's meeting, the council forwarded more than 40 county communications to various committees for discussion.
Among them were communications from Council Member Mike Victorino, who would like the council to again review the idea of prohibiting the use of disposable polystyrene food service containers by food providers and the possibility of outlawing passengers from riding in the bed of a truck. In his communications, Victorino said that the items had been discussed before in the council but had been automatically filed at the end of the 2011-2013 term.
Other communications referred to committee included a request to review the Maui Bus program, which is intended to generate public input on transit routes, schedules and fares; a bill to establish a crosswalk at Paia Elementary School, where parents have been concerned about children's safety; and a resolution establishing the order of Community Plan updates.
Baisa said that council committee meetings will begin Jan. 28. She would like the public to get more involved in the process and have community members testify at the committee meetings, where most, if not all, of the details of legislation are discussed and put together. She said that she would be working with her staff to make the public more aware of the issues the council is discussing.
Among the other issues Baisa would like the council to address is speeding up the county's permitting processes.
"We need to get our economy going. We need to move the permit process," she said.
Baisa said that the council will be working with Mayor Alan Arakawa's administration on this issue. She added that she will work with Arakawa and his administration to get things done and does not believe that the council and the mayor should be at odds. She believes in a cordial relationship.
Her other goals are to finish up the General Plan. Last year, the council wrapped up its work on and approved the Maui Island Plan, which designates areas for growth.
Next up will be the Community Plan updates and their implementation, Baisa said.
In his opening remarks to the council Friday, Council Member Mike White added that the council also must tackle Upcountry water issues. Last year, the council acted on one of three bills put forward by the water department to deal with the Upcountry water meter waiting list. The council last year voted to end the waiting list and to have the county deal with those on the list first before accepting new requests for Upcountry.
The council discussed but elected last year to refer a second bill back to the council chair, which would authorize the water director - with the approval of the mayor - to declare periods of water shortages countywide that would trigger higher water rates to encourage conservation. The third measure would establish tiers of higher drought rates during declared water shortage periods. The measure was not heard in committee last year.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.