Zendo Kern sees the economy and jobs as the biggest issue facing Hawaii County right now.
Employee furloughs remain a necessary budget-cutting maneuver during the current economic downturn, he said. He would oppose cutting the size of the county workforce, because of the multiplier effect in the economy when there are fewer employed workers.
“With this very long economic downturn, we have to make it work for us, and I think right now the size of government works for us,” Kern said. “The furloughs are a necessary thing with the economy we have right now. … But I’d rather not have to have them.”
Kern, 32, born and raised in Puna, is seeking the County Council District 5 seat created by redistricting.
The county’s solid waste problem is another pressing issue, and he favors a multifaceted approach to solving it.
Increasing recycling and getting the county sort station operating are two priorities, he said. Increasing public education about recycling would increase the recycling rate, but a waste-to-energy incinerator is also needed. He favors incremental expansion of the Hilo landfill to tide the county over until a more permanent solution is found.
“We need to work proactively as a legislative body,” Kern said. “If we all work together, we have time.”
Kern said it’s difficult for county government to have much say over electric rates, except for making its view known and lobbying state government and the Public Utilities Commission. Hawaii Electric Light Co. has to look out for its stockholders rather than its ratepayers, he said, and tying itself into 20-year contracts with energy providers that are based on the price of oil does nothing to keep rates low.
“I would like to see HELCO just focus on distribution and leave the energy production up to independent producers. That would lead to some competition,” he said.
West Hawaii pays about two-thirds of all the property tax revenues collected in the county, but most of that is coming from four resorts, he said. It wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the island if all that was collected on the west side is returned to the west side in facilities and services, he said.
“We’re all on the same island and we need to work together,” he said. “Each district should have its priority list, and resources should be distributed in an equitable fashion.”
Kern said he’d watch out for his district, but he would take an islandwide approach.
“We have to make sure our district’s needs are met, so we need to work together with each councilor from each district.”
Kern acknowledges the County Council has in the past been factionalized. But, as chairman of the seven-member Windward Planning Commission, he doesn’t believe that’s a necessary part of the nine-member board.
“I would like to think we’d get beyond factions and all work together,” he said. “I’d prefer not to be part of any faction.”