Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami delivered his fourth state of the county address Monday in a pre-recorded video, a token of the lingering health and economic crisis that has dominated his term.

Recapping progress made by the county during the first three years of his four-year term, Kawakami declared that “the worst is behind us” in terms of Covid-19 and said he is “fortunate” to have been in a position to lead Kauai through the pandemic.

While the bulk of a proposed $260 million operating budget proposal for fiscal year 2023 would fund salaries, insurance, fuel and utilities, Kawakami underscored the importance of addressing projects ranging from waste management to road work with a proposed $49 million capital improvement budget.

Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami during joint WAM FInance Meeting 2020.
Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami laid out a plan to invest in affordable housing and infrastructure. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Those projects include road resurfacing, bridge repairs, improvements to The Kauai Bus baseyard and upgrades to water treatment plants and distribution systems.

“We will explore our current financial picture and present our plan to invest wisely in our associates, our infrastructure, and our community,” Kawakami said. “Our proposed budget is structurally balanced and aims to make headway in decades-old deferred maintenance and infrastructure needs, all while avoiding additional general obligation debt or raising tax rates.”

Despite the economic doldrums of the pandemic, county tax collections soared last year. Some new initiatives will be funded by new revenue streams created through the county’s inaugural 3% transient accommodations tax enacted in September and nearly half a million dollars in savings this year due to bond refinancing.

Building on the success of Ke Alaula at Pua Loke, Kawakami laid out plans to build Lima Ola, a second transitional housing project where people without housing can seek temporary shelter, complete with wrap-around services to help them transition into permanent homes.

Kawakami also discussed county plans to develop affordable housing on nearly 50 acres in Kilauea — a mix of single-family homes for sale and for rent to serve low income and workforce residents that are typically priced out of the housing market.

The mayor also mentioned longer-term plans to build more housing at the 417-acre county development known as Waimea 400, which would provide residents of the island’s Westside with homes, farm land and recreational facilities.

Looking ahead, Kawakami said the county is working to create its first climate change adaptation plan to help assess risk and build resiliency. It’s also forging ahead on plans to build a mixed use recreation path on the Westside that mimics Kapaa’s paved coastal trail Ke Ala Hele Makalae.

Kawakami announced earlier this month that he will run for reelection in November, touting his aggressive Covid-19 response, as well as his administration’s implementation of a no-wait system at the DMV and new vehicle registration kiosks installed at four grocery stores across the island. 

If reelected, Kawakami said he would focus on upgrading Kauai’s aging infrastructure, developing more affordable housing projects, building a new landfill, improving parks and playgrounds and repaving roads.

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