Familiar Maui Faces Resurface on 2010 Campaign Trail

By Wendy Osher

Some familiar names have surfaced on the campaign trail as election season gets underway on Maui.  While as many as 20 people had pulled papers, only two had filed for candidacy so far, according to the last candidate report issued Thursday, February 11, 2010 by the State Office of Elections.

Board of Education Maui Representative Mary Cochran filed papers to run for the Makawao-Haiku-Paia Council seat that will be vacated by Councilmember Mike Molina, whose term limit expires this year.  Others pulling papers for the seat include: Kahekai Nishiki and Leona Nomura, both of Haiku.

Term limits for Councilmember Jo Anne Johnson also leaves the West Maui seat up for grabs this year.  Five people have already pulled papers for the seat, with Lahaina resident, Alan Fukuyama going one step further by filing papers for the post.  Those pulling papers are: Eve Clute, Eleanora Cochran, Jonah Kapu and Paul Laub.

Other Familiar faces include Former East Maui Councilman Robert Carroll who pulled papers for his old seat; and former candidate Don Couch who pulled papers for the South Maui seat he sought in 2008.

The only incumbent Councilmember to pull papers was Michael Victorino, who currently represents Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu on the County Council.  Those seeking office have until July 20 to file nomination papers.

In the race for Mayor, three people have pulled papers since the Office of Elections opened candidate filing on February 1, 2010.  Those pulling papers include:  Valarie Aquino of Lahaina, Orion Kopelman of Kula and Harold Miller of Kihei.

In the race for the 2nd District U.S. Congressional House seat currently held by Rep. Mazie Hirono, three Maui residents and one Honolulu man have pulled papers.  They are:  Patric Brock (L) of Kihei, Antonio Gimbernat (R) of Makawao, Andrew Von Sonn (N) of Paia, and John Willoughby (R) of Honolulu.

Three Maui residents have pulled papers for House Seats including: Natalie Kama (D) of Wailuku for District 8; Ramon Madden (R) of Lahaina for District 10; and George Fontaine (R) of Kihei for District 11.

The Primary Election is set for September 18 with the General Election on November 2, 2010.

Maui Bus Fleet Grows to Meet Projected 2 Million Riders

By Wendy Osher

The County of Maui dedicated two new high capacity buses today bringing the Maui fleet to 35.  County Transportation Director Don Medeiros said the new additions will help to meet an increased demand in rider-ship.

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Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares joins Ry Barbin and Maui Councilmember Michael Victorino in touring one of two new buses dedicated today to meet increase ridership. Photo by Wendy Osher.

Click here to listen to Wendy Osher’s interview with County Transportation Director Don Medeiros as Maui adds two new buses to a now 35 unit fleet.

With the County now logging more than 6,000 boardings per day, “It is not uncommon for smaller 25-passenger busses to experience overloading,” said Medeiros.  “So this will go a long way to allow people to be able to sit when they ride the bus,” he said.

Ridership on the Maui Bus experienced a nearly 68 percent increase in FY08 over FY07, according to Transportation officials.  Current data shows Maui’s ridership is at 10% over the same time last year, with more than a half-million riders recorded in the first three months of the fiscal year.  According to DOT projections, Maui is on track to record over 2 million boardings this year.

“In a time when people are a little depressed economically,”  Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares said, “This is the shining star of Maui County.”

“So many people are able now to go about their daily activities without a burden in their pocketbook or having to own a car if they don’t need to,” said Medeiros.

“There are folks for instance that work in Kaanapali or out in Kapalua that live Upcountry; and it’s as if they got a $500 bonus, because they don’t have to pay for the fuel,” said Medeiros.

“We have no idea how much impact these vehicles and this service has on our community,” said Tavares who added, “We count the numbers, we’re building ridership and people love it; but behind all of that, there are these individual stories,” said Tavares.

The two new buses have a seating capacity of 37 with four wheelchair stations per bus, bike racks that can accommodate two bicycles, and a complete set of six security cameras on board.

The 2009 El Dorado National EZ-Rider II Diesel buses were purchased from a manufacturer in Riverside, California for $394,299 each, for a total price tag of $788,598.  Eighty percent of the funding or $588,598 came from federal funding, with the remaining $200,000 funded by the County of Maui.

“Talk about changing the lives of people and helping them to stay whole in our community during these tough times…We will continue to grow our bus service as long as the people in the County of Maui need it,” said Tavares.

Use Of Water From Hamakuapoko Wells During Drought Up For Discussion

The Maui County Water Resources Committee will meet on Monday, October 5, 2009, to deliberate a proposed bill allowing water from the Hamakuapoko Wells to be utilized for Upcountry customers during times of drought.

Representatives from the Department of Water Supply, and Health Department were invited to discuss residents’ concerns related to water quality of the wells.

Committee Chair Michael Victorino encouraged the public to attend as the committee gathers oral and written testimony.

The meeting runs from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Monday, October 5, 2009 at the King Kekaulike High School Dining Room.  Those who wish to testify can begin signing up at 5:30 p.m. at the door.  Written testimony may be submitted to the Committee via email at wr.committee@mauicounty.us.

The proposed bill and meeting agenda can be viewed on the Water Resources Committee website at http://www.mauicounty.gov/committees/WR/

(Posted by Wendy Osher)

MAUI COUNCIL PASSES 2010 BUDGET UNANIMOUSLY ON 2ND & FINAL READING

The Maui County Council unanimously passed the FY2010 budget on second and final reading this morning.  The budget is $8.8 million less than the Mayor’s $573 million proposal, which translates to a 1.5% difference.

Budget Chair Joe Pontanilla discusses the TAT impact on the county budget during a public hearing in Lahaina.  File photo by Wendy Osher

Budget Chair Joe Pontanilla discusses the TAT impact on the county budget during a public hearing in Lahaina. File photo by Wendy Osher

Budget Chair Joe Pontanilla described the budget as austere and tight for both county departments and nonprofits, but also noted the flexibility presented by the program budget.

“In a program budget, the departments have the option of using funds from vacancies to fund operational needs, including filling vacant positions in situations where the Council reduced the funding,” said Pontanilla.

With $12.5 million in vacancies throughout the county, and additional funding in fringe benefits, Pontanilla said the county already has $21 million in funds appropriated within departments for vacant positions.  Pontanilla noted that the council is not deleting any of the current equivalent personnel, but rather reducing funding for vacant positions.

With amendments already hammered out during first reading two weeks ago, the budget passed in less than an hour with all council members casing 9 ayes in support.

Although she supported the budget, Councilmember Gladys Baisa, was the only one to do so with reservations.   Baisa expressed concern over funding cuts to services within the Department of Parks & Recreation and the Department of Fire and Public Safety saying, “I’m afraid there’s only so much we can cut before it becomes diminishing returns.”  At the same time, she voted in support of the budget with a “margin of confidence” in the work and thought put into the budget by the committee chair.

The committee held 22 meetings in the council Chamber over a six week period to discuss the Mayor’s proposed budget.  The members also held eight district meetings to receive public testimony on the budget from residents throughout the county.

“Should the Administration find that it cannot operate with this budget,” Pontanilla said, “the Mayor has the option of proposing a budget amendment to recognize additional revenue or reallocate funds.”

“I feel we acted cautiously, judiciously and responsibly in bringing about a fiscally prudent budget,” said Councilmember Bill Medeiros who represents East Maui.

Similar remarks were made by fellow Councilmember Michael Victorino who described the budget as “fiscally prudent and lean.”

Lanai Councilmember Sol Kahoohalahala said despite the tough year, the circumstances gave the council the opportunity to look at ways of being innovative and creative.

Council Chair Danny Mateo meantime reflected upon the “sobering moment,” of being faced with the possibility of losing the county’s share of the Transient Accommodation Tax or TAT.  Although the state legislature failed to pass a measure relating the to the item, Mateo said, “The bottom line is we have made a change from business as usual.”

Councilmember Jo Anne Johnson of West Maui agreed that the 11th hour decision on the TAT complicated the budget process.  In cutting and then restoring $4 million in road resurfacing funds, Johnson said, the council was diligent in assuring that provisions were added to address issues of accountability.

Fellow Councilmember Mike Molina said he does not expect the TAT issue to go away next year, summing up the approach to the 2010 budget in a few words:  “We did a lot of belt tightening; I guess you could say we’re on a diet.”

(By Wendy OSHER © 2009; file image by Wendy OSHER ©2009)

Related stories posted earlier:

COUNCIL UNANIMOUSLY PASSES BUDGET ON FIRST READING:

DEPARTMENT HEADS FIGHT FOR RESTORATION OF FUNDS IN FINAL BUDGET DELIBERATIONS