Mayor’s Budget Focuses on Water and Road Infrastructure
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By Wendy Osher
Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa unveiled his version of the Fiscal Year 2014 budget yesterday, focusing on infrastructure for road resurfacing and park facilities, and improvements to water-supply, drainage and wastewater systems.
“The basic issue that we are dealing with is that we have in the county an aging infrastructure,” Arakawa said in an interview with Maui Now. “Many of our facilities have been neglected since the time that they were built.
“We are systematically going through all of the different departments, and we’re trying to upgrade them,” he said, noting that the process is not something new for this year, but part of something the administration has been working on to upgrade systems to acceptable levels.
The mayor said hundreds of millions of dollars have already been spent for upgrades to environmental management and waste water systems during his administration.
“We were having spills. We were having violation of law almost daily before we did the upgrades. The EPA was fining us; the state Department of Health was fining us. We’ve been upgrading those systems and we’re now at a level where we can maintain (them) without facing severe fines,” he said.
Last year, the mayor said, his administration made a concerted effort to address highway repairs and maintenance. “We did the studies and realized that we were on a 50-plus year maintenance program, when we needed to get it down to 20-25 years,” he said.
With that goal in mind, Arakawa said the budget was upgraded from $12 million to $31 million initially, and again to $33 million this year. “We’re finding that if we maintain the roads (and) we fix them at the levels that we should, we’re providing the service the community expects,” he said.
Arakawa noted that by meeting maintenance goals, he expects the county will be able to cut costs of major repairs, and extend the life-span of roads in the future.
With the wheels in motion, the mayor said this year the administration is focusing in part on the Department of Water Supply.
“For generations we’ve had aging water systems. Our systems were put in over 80 years ago, and many of the pipes within our system are falling apart. Instead of trying to react to emergencies, we want to be very proactive,” Arakawa said.
“Kula has been the one (community) that has suffered the most because of shortages; but Kahului, Lahaina, (and) almost every place else is threatened because our systems are getting old and are not capable of keeping up with the growth expansions that we have within our various communities,” he said.
The mayor also discussed a controversial proposal that would authorize water rate increases or other water-saving measures during times of drought and declared water shortages. The measure, if approved, would reportedly give the director of water supply, with the consent of the mayor, the authority to impose such measures when conditions warrant.
“This is something that we have no objections, whatsoever,” said Arakawa. “Realistically, who else would declare an emergency like a drought. Who else knows the system well enough to be able to say we’re in a drought situation, or we’re in a shortage situation, besides the water director and the mayor? We are the ones who are ultimately going to have to answer to the community,” he said.
While Arakawa added funding for infrastructure in his budget, he said there would be cuts in the area of environmental management. As for social services, county officials say there is an overall increase in funding.
“We did an analysis of all the different programs this year — some agencies like Wailuku Main Street, we cut completely because they were not giving us the information we needed to be able to make the decisions. On most of the others we asked them to cooperate with us and give us information and the accounting that we need. We’re trying to hold them all more accountable,” said the mayor.
According to Arakawa, many social service programs are suffering cuts at the national and state level and face an uncertain future. At the county level, he said, his intent is to “protect the community.”
“From the county, we’re keeping everything intact. We’re actually going to ask to increase some of the social service areas to react to inflation, and we’re going to try to keep the quality of life for people here on Maui,” Arakawa said.