(BIVN) – Hawaiʻi County Mayor Mitch Roth delivered his State of the County address in Hilo on Monday, speaking from a podium in the atrium on the County building for roughly 44 minutes.
Behind him stood various executives serving in his administration, and he was joined by Governor Josh Green, Mayor Derek Kawakami from Kauaʻi, and members of the Hawaiʻi County Council. Council Chair Heather Kimball spoke briefly at the conclusion of Roth’s address.
The speech was livestreamed by Na Leo TV and carried on the Mayor’s Faceboook page. Although there were some technical difficulties at first, the entire speech was eventually broadcast.
The County emphasized several key talking points in the address:
- Economic Development
- Affordable Housing
- Building Permitting (EPIC)
- Critical Infrastructure Projects
- Kīlauea Eruption Recovery
- Public Safety
- Mauna Loa Eruption
- Public Transportation
After the speech was delivered, the mayor’s office provided this transcript of the address:
Aloha and mahalo for joining my team and I today as we discuss the current State of our County
Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge some of the folks here today, starting with Governor Josh Green, my fellow Mayors and their staff, my Department heads, Councilmembers, my staff in the Mayor’s office, and just a few of the individuals who work tirelessly day-in and day-out to make this island the best place to live, work and raise a family.
They’re the real reason we can carry out our vision and serve the many communities from Hilo to Kailua, South Point to Pololu, and everywhere in between.
Since day one, our priority has been and will continue to be sustainability.
Sustainability to me means the ability for our keiki to raise their keiki here on this island. The goal is not only for them to be able to live here but to thrive here — having every opportunity necessary to live long healthy, and happy lives.
This afternoon, I hope to share our approach to how we’ve been working to do just that.
For the sake of understanding and clarity, I’m going to break down our work into three buckets: reformation, resilience, and adaptation.
These three words will act as guiding principles for how we look at our work and manage the many tasks associated with running, operating, and ultimately improving our county to best serve you and your families yesterday, today, and into the future.
With that, let’s start with the first word…
Reformation, in this sense, is our administration’s actions and processes of reforming the institution we inherited to make it better, more efficient, and more reliable.
Put simply, reformation is our attempt to own the past and rectify it where needed.
When we entered office just over two years ago, it was clear that we would need to look at the cards we were dealt and figure out how best to play them.
In some cases, we had better hands than others, but it was clear that regardless of the cards we had in our hand, we had to own the fact that they were ours, and we had to play them accordingly — regardless if they were desirable or not.
This meant that lingering construction projects, long overdue maintenance, permit backlog, failing systems, and other issues being felt daily by the public had gone from someone else’s problem to our problem.
Some of those projects included the Kalanianaʻole Reconstruction Project, maintenance and upkeep of the Hilo Waste Water Treatment Plant, the recovery efforts relating to the 2018 Kīlauea Eruption, a lingering Coronavirus Pandemic, the Kapuʻe Stream Bridge Sewer Line Replacement Project, conversion to the EPIC permitting system, and animal control.
These were the cards that we were dealt.
Although some of these projects affected just portions of the island, some affected all of us, and we needed to be sure that we prioritized, planned, and executed accordingly.
One of the projects that would affect all of us was the Hilo Wastewater Treatment Plant, which had been long neglected and remains on the verge of an environmental catastrophe — not just for Hilo, not just the island, but potentially the whole state.
Upon identification of the issue, our office, the Department of Environmental Management, led by Ramzi Mansour, and the Finance Depart, led by Deanna Sako, worked tirelessly over the past year to secure the required funding to replace vulnerable systems nearing the end of their useful life.
The total funding needed to protect our shorelines and adequately replace the outdated and rapidly deteriorating system will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Today, following months of difficult technical engineering work, we are proud to say that Phase 1of the rehabilitation project is out to bid, with a notice to proceed for construction anticipated by the end of June 2023.
This will be one of the most extensive and expensive infrastructure projects we will invest in throughout our administration.
Another project that was years in the making was the Kalanianaʻole reconstruction project that left Keaukaha residents, beachgoers, visitors, beach cruisers, and much of East Hawaiʻi in limbo for nearly five years.
Within the first year of our term, we identified the issue, renegotiated the project, put it out to bid again, and promised to complete it by the end of 2022.
Thanks to our DPW team and the contractors at Nan, Inc., the project was completed on December 15, 2022.
In 2018, over 700 families lost their homes as a result of the Kīlauea eruption that covered parts of lower Puna with up to 80 feet of lava.
Between 2018 and 2020, over 1,000 residents were left awaiting vital recovery services from the County.
After conducting a comprehensive survey, a voluntary buy-out program was identified as the path forward, giving those who lost their homes a leg up in remaining a part of our community here on Hawaiʻi Island.
The funds for this endeavor were secured under Mayor Kim’s administration and followed through by ours.
As of today, through the leadership of Douglas Le, our Disaster Recovery Officer, and his team, we have made significant progress on Phase 1 of the volunteer buy-out program, spending $37.5 million of Federal grant monies to support 193 households who had lost their primary homes.
In addition to the buy-out program, our administration committed ourselves to working with FEMA to complete an environmental assessment for roadway repairs and waterline installation in Lower Puna concerning the 2018 Kīlauea eruption.
The EA is currently in its final review and is headed into a 30-day community comment period very soon.
Once reviewed, DPW, FEMA & HIEMA will schedule a community meeting to discuss the results of the EA within two weeks of the release date.
Following the public comment period, an RFP will go out, and work will soon begin to restore access and water to many beloved sites and memories for our residents of Lower Puna.
In 2017, the County negotiated an Administrative Order on Consent with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to close large capacity cesspools in Pāhala and Nā‘ālehu — a problem we’ve known about for the last 25 years.
The order committed the County to a lagoon system.
After doing a geotechnical survey, we realized there were significant design flaws that would not be fiscally possible for the County to complete within the timeline provided, and daily penalties would have accrued.
The estimated construction cost for the selected wastewater treatment solution was more than $120 million for fewer than 400 homes.
Thanks to collaborative efforts on behalf of our team, the Department of Health, and the EPA to tackle these significant flaws, we renegotiated a revision of the federal order in 2022, saving the County more than $50 million for taxpayers and the county.
We are on track to close the gang cesspools before 2028, which will help greatly in protecting our groundwater and the pristine Ka‘ū coast.
Our approach of being willing to work together to solve these large-scale, overarching issues has been a theme throughout our first two years, and we’re proud of the innovation that has come with that.
Another shining example of that innovation would be the Kapu‘e Stream Bridge sewer line repair.
In 2021, a corroded gravity main tied to the side of the 200-foot-high bridge feeding the Papaʻikou Wastewater Treatment Plant had become blocked, causing 67,000 gallons of untreated sewage to flow into the streambed.
Initially, the cost to fix the sewer line was estimated at $2.5M, and a temporary bypass that was blocking the sidewalk could have been in place for more than two years due to shipping and scaffolding construction backlogs at the time.
Just think, more than two years to fix a problem that could have caused thousands more gallons of untreated sewage to fill our streams.
However, through innovative thinking, collaboration between departments, using on-island supplies, and creative engineering, the problem was fixed in three months, saving the County more than $1.2 million.
This project shined a national spotlight on our County as a leader in engineering innovation.
Another card dealt to us when we entered office was a failing bus and transportation system.
In 2020, Hele-on service was minimal, with unreliable buses and routes that did not meet the island’s needs, resulting in declining ridership and failing to meet the standard of the County’s transit and multi-modal transportation master plan.
Today, with the help and expertise of Administrator Andoh, routes are timely, buses have been upgraded with more on the way, and the services have expanded to include many transportation options such as more fixed routes, rural door-to-door services, a partnership with the Kona Trolley, taxis, flex routes, carpooling, vanpool, micro-transit, rideshare, Safe Places, bike-share, and more.
And the cost to the hele-on users is now free.
In addition, we have worked to implement many of the recommendations of the County’s Transit and Multi-Modal Transportation Master Plan.
Another card that we were dealt was the decades of deferred maintenance at park facilities that have caused facilities island-wide to close for repairs, including Pāpaʻaloa Gym along the Hāmākua Coast, which was demolished due to irreparable damage.
Essentially, that building was held together by termites singing kumbaya.
Working with Parks Director Maurice Messina, the community, and elected officials, we helped to raise $10M to design and build a new facility — one that we will work with the community to ensure a facility that meets their needs and desires.
On March 1, Governor Green wrote a letter releasing $5M of those funds.
Also, a warm mahalo to our legislators for assisting us with this feat.
This is a shining example of how public/private partnerships can be a tremendous success.
Transitioning to the EPIC system and dealing with the permitting backlog was likely one of the most challenging issues for us to inherit.
Within the first year, we successfully transitioned our teams to the all-online permitting system known as EPIC — a decision that was made before our time but accomplished under our terms.
The process included migrating planning and permitting digital information from excel documents and other plan and permitting systems into the new system.
As of last Friday, we have issued more than 8,724 building permits.
We also inherited a failing Animal Control issue that was bordering on animal cruelty.
With the help of the County Council, currently led by Chair Kimball, our Finance Department, and the outstanding work of HPD Maj. Amy Wana, we will soon create a division within the county rather than outsourcing the service.
45 positions are currently budgeted to take on this endeavor for the entire island.
We also purchased Barking Dogs Kennels out in Puna to have a place to adequately keep animals going through a transition period.
This will help to ensure that our animals are treated with decency while ensuring resident safety.
As a quick story, yesterday, I was driving over Saddle Road and saw a wounded dog needing assistance.
After taking her in, I realized she had a massive cut along her side, likely from a wild boar.
I immediately called animal control for help, and they quickly came to her rescue.
She was taken to the Barking Dogs Kennel, where she was held until being taken for treatment.
I later learned that her owner was concerned and looking for her after she jumped out of the back of his truck — posting on Facebook to get assistance finding her.
Because of our Animal Control Officers, Bebe is now home safe with her owner.
Lastly, Civil Defense, led by Administrator Talmadge Magno, and the County as a whole wrapped up two years of Coronavirus Operations.
Including; coordinating the County operations and response to coronavirus, community, and workplace testing and vaccination, airport testing, managing quarantine sites with wrap-around services, PPE warehousing and distribution, call taker operations, travel restrictions and travel waivers, public messaging and outreach to citizens and businesses, gathering and event authorization, test kit distribution, and frequent meetings with State, Federal and non-government partners.
Part of that wrap-up was getting our keiki and community back out to the fields, gyms, and large-scale community events.
Some of the events brought back in 2022 included: The 4th of July Hilo Bay Blast and car show, the Queen Lili’uokalani Festival, Magic of the Season, IRONMAN, and the Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival.
We also worked with Aunty Luana and the Merrie Monarch Festival organizers to ensure we did not cancel another festival.
The festival was an incredible success and a reminder of what’s possible through innovation and teamwork.
And by the way, next month, we will celebrate the 60th annual festival, with no capacity or COVID-related restrictions, because of everyone’s hard work and commitment to safety over the past few years.
Moving forward, accountability, ownership, and rectification of the processes, systems, andissues we inherit will continue to be a priority for us as we prepare our present for the long-termfuture of our County.
Next, let’s talk about resilience.
Resilience refers to our administration’s efforts and actions to build the capacity to withstand and recover quickly from today’s difficulties while creating a level of toughness that will allow us to flourish into the future.
In other words, it’s the short-term actions we take today that will build the foundation that allows the County to thrive into the future we envision.
Some examples of the actions taken include the revival of critical affordable housing projects, increasing the capacity to care for and treat houseless individuals, amplifying emergency response capabilities, breaking ground on shovel-ready projects, mitigating staffing shortages, dealing with disasters in real-time, upgrading water systems, and investing in facility management.
Each of these initiatives takes cross-sector collaboration, buy-in, and a selfless willingness on behalf of all involved to get them done promptly and efficiently.
Affordable housing is one of the most critical components to creating sustainable resilience where our keiki will be able to raise their keiki here.
Since taking office, we have worked diligently with Susan Kunz and the Office of Housing and Community Development to bolster our pipeline of affordable housing projects.
Unfortunately, when we walked into office, just over 1,000 affordable housing units were in the pipeline. Today, thanks to Susan and her team, our affordable housing pipeline is at 5,767 units and growing.
When units are in the pipeline, they are far more than just conceptual.
Our OHCD has gone through the trouble of providing funding, assistance with the HRS 201H process, and other support so developers can come in and get building.
Currently, we have broken ground and begun construction on 6 projects and have completed 3to date.
The projects that we’ve completed include the County-owned 20-unit Pāpa‘aloa Elderly Affordable Housing project in Hāmākua, which was completed in September 2022 and is fully leased, as well as the 60-unit Kaiaulu O Waikoloa affordable housing project in North Hawaiʻi which was completed at the end of 2022 and is currently in the process of being leased.
Earlier this year, we broke ground on the Hale Na Koa ‘O Hanakahi project on Kāwili Street in Hilo, with a preference for veterans and surviving spouses. The project is a 92-unit Senior Affordable Housing project developed by EAH Housing in partnership with the Hawai‘i Island Veterans Memorial group.
We provided financing assistance through its HOME and Housing Trust Funds totaling $5.4 million and 50 Project Based Vouchers to add to the project’s viability.
This project was 16 years in the making, and we’re proud to have contributed to getting it over the finish line.
By the end of 2023, we plan to break ground on an additional 8 projects that will add an additional 778 affordable housing units to the market soon after.
Aside from affordable housing, our administration acknowledges the need to care for our houseless population in ways that go beyond shelter.
Through the leadership and persistence of our OHCD and the support of Governor Green, we broke ground on Kukuiola Homeless Shelter in Kealakehe on January 26, 2023.
Another project that was incepted before our time but revived and pushed through under our administration.
The grading and construction of the access road is being funded by both State and County funds, and $10 million of federal funding was secured for the construction of the homeless shelter thanks to the efforts of Senator Brian Schatz and Senator Mazie Hirono.
When complete, the shelter will provide social services and programs to help transition emergency shelter individuals to permanent supportive housing and/or affordable housing programs to meet state and county homeless housing goals.
We realize that it’s not just houseless individuals that need care.
This is why we’ve also dedicated $7.5 million this year alone to help with detoxification, mental illness, medical outreach, and permanent supportive housing, to name a few.
Over the last year, we worked with our Fire Department, under Chief Todd’s direction, to attain the required funding and justification to replace Chopper 2 — a rescue helicopter that has been in service for over 30 years and is in desperate need of replacement.
When I had my heart attack in early 2021, I was taken to our Fire station in Puako, which is home to Chopper 2.
Under normal circumstances, I could have been airlifted to Hilo, saving critical rescue minutes, but instead, the chopper was down, and I was forced to be taken via ambulance.
First to North Hawaii Community Hospital, then to Hilo.
Fortunately, I made it to care in the nick of time and was able to make a full recovery.
This, however, could have very well not been the case — which is why we’re so committed to ensuring that anyone else who goes through a similar issue on our West side will have access to the quickest care possible.
The new helicopter will cost $5M and is anticipated to be on the ground in the first or second quarter of the fiscal year 2023-2024.
This would not have been possible if not for the generosity of the Sayer Foundation and the private, on-island donors who contributed to one of our Fire Department’s most outstanding needs.
We also successfully secured $200,000 from the State to replace and procure much-needed life safety equipment for the Water Safety Division, as well as an additional $1.2 million to support our ambulance fleet replacement program.
With these additional funds, we were able to purchase five new ambulances this fiscal year.
In addition to beefing up our emergency medical service capacity, the Prosecutor’s office, led by Kelden Waltjen, has continued the long-standing practice of training hundreds of staff, police,and multidisciplinary professionals in a diverse array of criminal justice focus areas, including sex assault, witness intimidation, forensic evidence, digital evidence, case management, and traffic safety.
We’ve also partnered with all necessary agencies and community groups to address ongoing issues on Hawaii Island relating to drug trafficking and misuse, crimes committed by individuals suffering from mental health, and intimate partner violence.
HPD also ramped up efforts to manage speed-related fatalities and accidents by increasing targeted speeding traps with daily on-shift enforcement in specific areas, speed board deployment, as well as sign-waving by our Community Policing Section and members of our community in efforts to increase public awareness regarding safe driving, and other community issues.
The community’s safety is paramount to a thriving, resilient Hawaiʻi Island, and we will continue to invest in programs and equipment that allow our frontline responders the necessary tools toprotect our residents’ health and safety.
Earlier this year, our administration had the privilege of welcoming a new Chief to the Department, Ben Moskowitz — who will carry on the tradition of our Hawaiʻi County officers in being a part of the community and not a part from the community.
Another key to a healthy Hawaiʻi Island is access to fresh, potable water.
Last year alone, the Department of Water Supply, led by Chief Engineer Keith Okamoto, in conjunction with our administration, completed three critical projects in Pāhoa, Papaʻikou, and Halaula.
The completed waterline connections in the Makuʻu/Pahoa area improved the resiliency and redundancy for our customers in the Pāhoa and Ōlaʻa/Mountain View public water systems.
In that process, DHHL and DWS worked together to complete the necessary infrastructure to provide water service to 28 additional Hawaiian Home Lots in the Makuʻu area.
The completed Papaʻikou Waterline replacement project replaced approximately three miles of aged waterline, multiple fire hydrants, and numerous water service laterals.
Completion of the Papaʻikou project improves overall water infrastructure for our customers in Papaʻikou’s public water system.
Lastly, the completed Halaula Well and Reservoir project in Kohala helped to improve the resiliency and redundancy of water supply and storage for our customers in the North Kohala public water system.
All of these projects help to maintain, protect, and improve the efficiency of water distribution for our residents.
Another necessary investment in increasing our County’s resiliency was growing the Parks Maintenance and Repair budget for our 300+ facilities from $425,000 to $2.1M — setting the County up to make long overdue repairs on some of our most precious community resources.
This could not have been done without the teamwork and ingenuity of our Parks Departmentand Finance.
Mahalo, Deanna, and Moe, for working together with us to get it done.
We also focused on how our County deals with regenerative tourism.
In partnership with the Edith Kanakaʻole Foundation, our administration has worked with lineal descendants, cultural practitioners, visitor service providers, and community residents to demonstrate the efficacy of place-based processes built on ancestral knowledge that details pono behavior, practices, and stewardship to determine how wahi pana are visited, what cultural assets are shared, and how we can create living wage jobs through the implementation of these practices.
An example of our committed effort is through our partnership with Aunty Cindi Punihaole with the Kohala Center, which has instituted site-specific conservation and educational efforts at Kahaluʻu Beach Park.
An effort that, through the vision and grit of Aunty Cindi, has garnered national attention and is a gleaming testimony of a public-private partnership that protects our wahi pana while allowing others to enjoy these special areas respectfully.
We’re committed to protecting and preserving the people and places that make Hawaiʻi so remarkable — true resilience is the resilience of the land and its people.
We also worked to administer the USDA Summer Meal program, which provided collaborative support to Vibrant Hawaiʻi and statewide partners to develop and implement the Kaukau for Keiki program that fed 4,000 eligible students a week for six weeks, providing each student withten pounds of locally sourced fruits and vegetables a week.
Another example of resilience came at the end of last year when Mauna Loa began erupting.
The flow began around 11:30 pm on November 27, and by the following day, began a clear path toward Saddle Road — otherwise known as the Daniel K. Inouye Highway — our island’s connector route between East and West Hawaiʻi.
The next night, spectators lined the roadway for a chance to catch a glimpse of Madame Pele.
With high-speed limits, increased pedestrian crossing, and poor visibility, we knew that it was inevitable that if we allowed viewing to continue in that capacity for the duration of the event, it would only be a matter of time before someone was severely injured.
To clear the roadway and mitigate adverse traffic hazards, the Traffic Hazard Mitigation Routewas incepted.
What was truly remarkable about the inception of the THMR is that we could stand it up within 24 hours, working collaboratively with multiple State and Federal agencies who quickly acted to support our effort with manpower, land, access, equipment, and more.
It’s rare that so many agencies are able to work together in such a short amount of time, and we’re incredibly proud to have been ready and willing partners in pursuit of a resilient Hawaiʻi.
Some key individuals who helped make it happen include Governor Green, who answered his phone at 10:30 pm as Maurice Messina and I drove the road, General Hara, LTC Kevin Cronin, Ed Sniffen, Steve Pause, and their various teams who resurfaced, set up, staffed, and brokedown the THMR after it was no longer needed.
Lastly, we continue to strive to build resilience by streamlining our building permitting process — getting people back to work and roofs over our local families’ heads.
Over the past year, we brought in a consultant specializing in streamlining building permitting processes across the US to assess our current process and make recommendations accordingly.
His report was completed at the end of 2022, and many of the suggested changes have already begun to be implemented within the Department.
Additionally, our administration has identified unnecessary redundancies in the law and has worked diligently with Representative Ilagan to introduce HB 920, a bill that will allow the counties to bypass specific elements of the State building code, as needed, to address the needs of the individual county vs. a blanket policy.
Basically, it will allow our County Council to make amendments to the building code that make sense for our island rather than the Country.
We’re hoping that with HB920 passed and the consultant’s recommendations implemented within the department, we’ll be able to establish a more resilient building permitting process that will allow us to address and eventually alleviate permitting backlogs in the future.
Ultimately, these are just of few examples of the many steps that we believe are fundamental building blocks for a resilient Hawaiʻi Island for today and well into the future.
We’ve talked a lot today about what we’ve done to adjust and overcome over the past two years.
Mentioning these accomplishments and, in some cases, setbacks is critical for all of us to understand where we’re coming from, where we’re going, and why.
Finally, we will talk about adaptation — the final pillar of our guiding principles.
Adaptation, in this instance, refers to our administration’s actions and processes to adapt our services and functions to serve the County of the future and not of the past.
In other words, it’s how we plan to innovate for the future of our island — not tomorrow, not 5 years from now, but for generations beyond us.
One of the most essential components of adapting our county to foster a sustainable future for our island home is to work diligently to protect our climate and, with it, our pristine natural resources here in Hawaiʻi and around the globe.
Last year, through the leadership of R&D Director Doug Adams, our County was awarded Hydrogen Twin Cities Initiative grant through the US Department of Energy’s Hydrogen Twin Cities Initiative providing funding to support a 5-year mentoring relationship between Namie Japan, Lancaster, California, and the County of Hawaiʻi to replace oil and fossil fuels with hydrogen-based fuel cells to help reach carbon neutrality by 2035.
With this grant, we will be part of a team that will pilot hydrogen transformation for not only Hawaiʻi but the Country.
This twin-city relationship will be vital in forging partnerships to build out our infrastructure capabilities, setting the groundwork for a carbon-neutral Hawaiʻi and a potential hydrogen-based economy.
The conversion to clean energy doesn’t only include the infrastructure but also the modes of transportation by which we get around.
That’s why we have invested in and will continue to invest in converting our county transportation systems from fossil to clean energy vehicles.
By the end of the year, we expect to add 3 additional hydrogen buses to our fleet, and by the end of 2024, we will add an additional 18 electric buses to the Hele-On ʻohana.
As the need for public transportation increases, so must our capacity to operate our Hele-on system.
That said, we are proud to announce that we have obtained over $25 million in grant funding to replace the entire Hele-On fleet, fund operations, and start planning a new base yard in Kailua-Kona as well as transit hubs in Kailua-Kona and Pāhoa.
For us, transportation isn’t only about travel but about access — particularly for those who have disabilities.
Over the past two years, our administration has invested $30.3M into park upgrades to make them ADA-compliant — completing 6 projects in the last year alone.
By the end of this year, we plan to finish all planned park upgrades for a total of 15 completed projects between 2022 and 2023.
These investments in upgrades will ensure access to our parks for all of our residents and visitors for many, many years to come.
Access is also about connectivity, which our administration, under the lead of IT Director Scott Uehara and R&D Director Doug Adams, has partnered to expand connectivity in underserved areas by establishing high-speed connections to community anchor locations.
We also continue to work with the State broadband hui and other private sector partners to bring digital equity to many of our residents, particularly in our rural communities across the island.
This includes the recent $1.5 Million Hawaiian Telcom investment to complete a fiber ring in East Hawai‘i, which will skyrocket network reliability for more than half of Hawai‘i Island, including the districts of Puna, Ka‘ū, South Kona, and Kailua-Kona.
Connecting our island today, tomorrow, and into the future requires consistent roadwork and infrastructure maintenance, which our administration continues to commit to.
Over the coming year, we will rehabilitate Waikoloa Road from mauka to makai and portions of Kilauea and Keawe streets in Hilo, improving County infrastructure while incorporating components of the Complete Streets plans.
Looking to the future, our Department of Water Supply has begun working to establish sound fiscal policies for long-term financial stability, which would contribute to establishing appropriate water rates for all customers and maintaining financial reserves.
They’ve also begun planning to Implement an asset management program which would be a proactive, preventative, and predictive maintenance program to ensure reliable and fiscally sound operating water systems.
Additionally, to ensure the protection of our watersheds well into the future, the DWS plans to develop and award funds to a watershed organization that would conduct activities to protect identified watersheds, directly improving watershed recharge.
Understanding that true adaptation cannot come without diversification of industry; our administration has been working to bolster alternative revenue opportunities for our island, including applying our efforts in and around the film industry.
Last year alone, we worked with Commissioner Freitas to provide promotion, inter-departmental coordination and permitting support to facilitate the successful on-island production of 2 major television and film projects (Temptation Island and Chief of War) that generated $32 million in on-island revenues, created 177 local jobs, and engaged 30 Hawaiʻi Island vendors.
Exploration of alternative industries for Hawaiʻi Island will continue to be a theme as we continue to adapt to a changing economy.
That said, like many businesses throughout our community, staffing continues to be an issue for us.
With over 298 vacant positions throughout our County, our Department of Human Resources, led by Waylen Leopoldino, has begun an aggressive recruitment campaign to bolster our county workforce, allowing us to continue providing critical services to the community today and well into the future.
Part of that included initiating a County rebranding campaign – “Our Big Island, Our Community” – focusing on the impact of our employees in our Big Island Community.
We’ve increased promotion through radio, TV, and print advertisements and developed and implemented an aggressive social media campaign on all major platforms, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
We’ve also increased our community outreach to include County of Hawaii “Resource Fairs” to highlight our County Departments and their functions in the community.
We’ve also looked to re-engage critical stakeholders in our community to establish new partnerships with colleges and universities to develop talent pipelines.
The workforce of tomorrow must be built today.
All of our adaptation efforts can only be made with a clear plan.
This is why we’re proud to announce that after nearly 20 years, our administration, through the direction of Planning Director, Zendo Kern, has taken on the task of updating our General Plan — a guiding document for the growth of our island into the future.
The draft of which will go before the public this year.
We encourage continued community engagement through that process so that we can truly forge a sustainable future for Hawaiʻi Island that is adapted to benefit the needs of all of ourresidents and not just the select few.
In closing, I would like to end with one of my favorite mantras: every adversity comes with equalor greater opportunity.
Each day, we strive to make this island better than it was the day before.
Some days we have our struggles, and some days, we have our victories — some days, we have both — much like many of you.
That said, we continue to put one foot in front of the other in the pursuit of a sustainable Hawaiʻi Island where our keiki can thrive and succeed for generations to come.
We do that by focusing on reforming county policies and processes that impact the lives of our residents every day.
This could be working to streamline our building permitting system, repairing aging infrastructure, or simply focusing on how we treat people internally and externally.
We do it through building resilience capacity that takes the issues of today and lays a foundation for tomorrow.
This could be through the resurrection of affordable housing projects, investment in homeless issues, or our real-time response to natural disasters and emergencies.
Lastly, we do it through the lens of innovation that aims to implement systems that will allow the county to flourish far beyond our administration.
This could be through investment in whole systems changes like how we produce and view energy, how we partner to connect communities physically and virtually, or how we reimagine our economic climate to find alternative revenue streams beyond tourism.
The road ahead to achieve these goals is already underway, and we’re incredibly proud of the work we’ve done, the work we’re doing, and the work we will do to get us to a place where our keiki are no longer our biggest export.
Together, we are working to build a county of the future and not of the past.
Not just because we want to, but because it’s the right thing to do.