Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 11 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
The following came from Tim Richards, a candidate for Hawaii County Council District 9, which covers Mauna Lani Resort, Waikoloa Village, Puako, Waikii, a portion of Kamuela, Puukapu Farms, Puukapu Homesteads, Puukapu Village House Lots, Lualai, Puuopelu, Lalamilo, Waiaka, Kawaihae, Kohala Ranch, Mahukona, Hawi, Kapaau and Halaula. He is one of two candidates. The other is Maya Parish.
1. The latest volcanic eruption demonstrates that some homes and infrastructure are particularly vulnerable to lava flow. Should this change Hawaii County’s approach to development, and if so, how?
This is not a simple answer. The goal of Hawaii County and its development is to balance between the impacts on the environment, the county infrastructure, and the surrounding communities while paying attention to community safety and recognizing the inherent Rights of individuals owning land.
This is dealt with in jurisdictions that are concerned with flooding, hurricane inundation, tornado areas, and other areas prone to natural events and disaster. If we look at the USGS lava zone maps, we have a reasonably good idea of areas most likely to be effected by active lava flow.
Lava flow risk in any of the zones is possible. With landowners wanting to build on their land, they will have to embrace the potential risk of lava and recognize that they could lose their investment that may not be covered by insurance. Lava zone 1 is the highest risk. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is in lava zone 1 and is currently closed. We have no idea of the future but do we just allow any rebuilding in the park when/if it opens again? Again it will come down to risk and landowners’ willingness to accept the risk of building near an active volcano.
2. Are changes needed in how the County Council is run, and if so what are they?
Two areas that I want to improve:
• Budget process: Currently we are stuck in a process of “silo“ legislation where we do not look at income streams in concert with expenditures. We need to get away from this and either establish a Budget Committee or a Budget ad hoc committee. Since early 2018 I was pushing for and a proponent of a budget and ad hoc committee. My intent was to look at income and expenditures in concert with each other to make a recommendation to the full council. Ad hoc committees make no decisions and only make recommendations. Though fellow council members understood my intent, I could not get enough support.
• County Council rules concerning committee function need to be changed. As with other groups I have been involved with, any proposal coming forward must clear committee before going to governing body. In this case any legislation must clear committee before going to full council. Currently the committees pass everything to council with either a positive or negative recommendation. I believe the county would be far better served if something that did not make it through committee would not go on to the full council.
3. The Legislature has authorized Hawaii County to implement a 0.5 percent GET surcharge. Should the county do it, and if so, what should the additional revenue be spent on?
(Editor’s note: Since the surveys were sent out, the council approved a 0.25 percent GET surcharge.)
One of the challenges with Hawaii County is our income stream and the high dependency of real property tax to fund our budget. Approximately 70 percent of our revenue stream is in real property tax collections. From a financial standpoint, having this narrow income stream puts the county at risk if anything impacts real property tax revenue. This has been made more evident by the recent volcanic eruption and the decrease in projected real property tax revenue by $5 million. By county charter we must have a balanced budget at the start of our fiscal year July 1. We found out at the end of May that our budget was not balanced by a projected deficit of $5 million.
In early 2018 I started working on a proposal of implementing the 0.5% GE tax surcharge while offsetting its impact on our local residents with concessions in real property tax and fuel tax.
In the final hours of our fiscal year ending June 30, our council approved a 0.25 percent GET surcharge for only two years. A stopgap measure at best and a compromise. Projected revenues from this surcharge are approximately $10 million annually.
4. There is a desire to grow the economy through new development yet also a need to protect our limited environmental resources. How would you balance these competing interests?
When I was born in the County of Hawaii, our population was approximately one-third of what we have today. By the simple fact of the people living in our county today, everyone supports development as they would not have a place to live if we had no development. That being said, what we do strive for is responsible development. Looking to grow the economy, my view is that development is a result of a growing economy rather than the trigger of a growing economy.
A great deal of our county’s economy is based upon tourism. Looking to other potential economic engines for our county, I see agriculture as one of the possible drivers. We have the lands, we have enviable water sources, and we have a potential workforce. There are numerous crops that we could explore and embrace and raise. That, however, is just the start.
The true economy grows as we also develop the value added complement of agriculture. In that instance we are stewarding the lands, increasing our food self reliance, and growing the economy as value added products increase the need for labor and turn the dollars in our own economy.
5. What would you do, if anything, to strengthen police accountability?
If we look at our county police force, the number of officers we have per thousand residents and tourists is in line with national standards. The problem that we face is the Big Island is big, meaning those officers cover a disproportionately large geographical area. The accountability that needs to be strengthened is actually accessibility and reliability of our police force having a presence. Because of that geographical size, that means more police officers and that will only come from an increase in funding. Currently we are evaluating on how we could find more funding for our police force.
6. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
I believe the laws in place concerning lobbying, ethics, and financial disclosure are currently strong enough. What is needed is increase enforcement of those laws. Additionally, a review of the penalties should be conducted with the intent of making those penalties more severe especially on the repeat offender.
7. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Absolutely. The point here is who would make that determination as to what is in the public interest? Implementing that process in my view is more of the difficult matter.
8. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
For my office as a county councilman I have tried a multipronged approach. A combination of the printed news media, email, newsletter, social media, attending community meetings and events, and face-to-face one-on-one and group meetings have all been used. Additionally, my time in the field actually going to the constituents area and seeing their concern first hand has been invaluable.
No one venue solves the concern. We try to embrace multifaceted efforts of communication. I have always had a very open door policy and will meet with any constituent on any topic at any time we can schedule an appointment.
9. What more should Hawaii County be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
Having attended several state sponsored presentations, the first step is looking to our future and do our zoning appropriately. This will necessitate changing how we zone and planning for water inundation in the near coastal zones. As to reef health, we must be mindful of any developments that could cause increased erosion into the coastal waters causing damage to the reefs. We also have to pay attention to the impacts of coastal cesspools and septic systems and their impact on the reefs.
I have been working with the Puako community to work toward a solution with their sewage issue. In that instance I am hopeful solutions may be identified that can be replicated in other coastal communities. In essence having Puako as a “poster-child” for a successful future.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
There is no one concern that is unrelated to anything else. I look to affordable housing as probably our biggest self-evident immediate problem. It is symptomatic of a sluggish economy and poor public policy; we can do better.
As we strive to develop affordable housing, we must also work toward having economic growth. That growth will help fund the resources to develop more housing. Currently I am working with a private developer that is intent on bringing to market over 1,000 units of affordable/workforce housing. It is the intent of the project to keep that housing in the affordable category and not have it convert to market values. Additionally, it is the further intent that various levels of housing would be available; i.e., starter apartments, multiple bedroom apartments, multifamily dwellings, and standalone homes and being in one form of housing would not preclude or disqualify you from upgrading as an individual strives to increase the quality of life.