Kawakami proposes budget to address Kauaʻi infrastructure, development
For years, the County of Kauaʻi showed restraint in its budget, opting for more cautious outlooks as the pandemic went on.
Now, with soaring revenues, Mayor Derek Kawakami continues his promise to invest in infrastructure and development, while opting to pay off debts and decrease some residential taxes in the upcoming fiscal year budget.
"We certainly have been through a lot as a community over these past few years," Kawakami said Tuesday morning during his annual State of the County address, and the first in his second term as mayor. "While COVID-19 has dominated a good portion of our attention, our administration never lost sight of the core mission."
Together, a $312 million operating budget and $90 million for capital improvement projects outline priorities ranging from resurfacing roads and developing pedestrian and vehicle infrastructure to upgrading Vidinha Stadium with artificial turf and a $10 million roof repair of the Kauaʻi War Memorial Hall.
The upcoming budget dwarfs the ongoing $260 million operating and $50 million CIP budgets, which marked the county’s return to pre-pandemic level revenues.
With the advent of the county’s collection of its own general excise and transient accommodations taxes, these streams buoyed the county to the point where reliance on state funding has dwindled. With $328 million in total revenue, that's about $32 million from GET, $23 million from TAT, and $220 million from property tax revenue.
About 63% of the county’s revenue is coming from visitor-related taxes, Kawakami said, unlike other counties which see the highest streams from property taxes.
Subject to Kauaʻi County Council approval, Kawakami has proposed using this opportunity to enact a 10% decrease on residential and homestead property tax rates, a shift that would have direct impact on homeowners.
“While the county finds itself in a positive position, we recognize the burden of the ever increasing cost of living is on our residents,” Kawakami said.
This financial stability will also give the county a chance to pay off debts used to build affordable housing, including $13 million for the 75-acre Lima ʻOla community in ʻEleʻele and out-right purchase of new vehicle and equipment purchases, rather than a lease-to-own option.
“The goal of this year's budget is to continue shaping a strong foundation that future generations can stand on, we are doing this in line with our core values by one paying down our debts while avoiding additional debt service or tax increases,” Kawakami said.
The county will also break ground to build around 400 new affordable housing units.
About 77% of the operating budget goes toward employee operations, which is 10% more than last year.
The budget adds space for a new caretaker for the expanded Hanapepe Veterans Cemetery; a liquor licensing clerk; deputy county attorney to oversee risk management; expanding the Finance Department with a property tax code expert; six new positions for the freshly-ground-broken satellite DMV location in Kapaʻa; and 12 new lifeguard positions to increase coverage island wide.
“This leaves little more than 20% of our general fund to dedicate to our account for core functions and services,” Kawakami explained.
Kawakami’s administration will also continue to modernize and expand the county’s core services. Already during his tenure, the county has instituted an online appointment system at the DMV, reducing wait times, and has implemented a road resurfacing map that shows ongoing projects.
Money will be put toward ongoing projects, like siting a new landfill, development of the Waimea 400 plot and upgrading bus fare collection from cash and paper passes to an electronic system. Connecting Waimea and Kekaha, the county will also put funding toward a walking path between the two west side communities.
The county will continue to reduce spreading tourism outside of its visitor destination areas, and move forward on a visitor parking payment program in high-traffic areas.
Throughout his speech, Kawakami evoked his passion for surfing.
“The county’s budget is our surfboard, the vessel by which the government is made possible,” Kawakami said. "No one board is fit for every wave; it's uniquely crafted for specific conditions but also designed to adapt and be flexible.”