The district has changed, but Councilwoman Brenda Ford’s commitment to her new South and West Hawaii district remains the same.
A three-term District 7 councilwoman representing South Kona, Ford’s district was moved when lines were redrawn to a sprawling District 6, which runs from the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park boundary all the way to Kealakekua.
Ford’s top issue is jobs. She’s sponsored six specific capital improvement projects to try to get construction moving in the district while providing increased amenities for the region. She’s also pushing to complete the Ocean View transfer station and the Pahala shelter and gym.
“These are jobs bills,” Ford said.
Ford’s current council district is among the three council districts that generate almost 70 percent of the property taxes. Ford believes West Hawaii should get its due, but she also believes that it’s time that neglected districts, such as those in Puna, get needed projects and services. West Hawaii shouldn’t get back exactly what it puts in, she said.
“All the districts need financial support and those areas that generate more taxes need to help those less able,” Ford said. “All the areas outside of Hilo need infrastructure improvements, and it just needs to be fair.”
Ford thinks the tax code needs “serious revision,” and she points to recommendations in a recent consultant’s study as laying the groundwork for tax reform in the near future.
Ford says the council has in the past become factionalized, with majority and minority members squabbling over legislation. She said her concern in the legislation she sponsors has always been what’s best for the county and what’s best for her district.
“I’ve seen good legislation go down for political reasons, and that’s sad; it’s very sad to see that happen,” Ford said. “My vote has always been islandwide. I always vote for the best interest of the island, as well as my district.”
There’s very little the county can do to influence electric rates, which are the highest in the nation, she said. Ford said resolutions passed by the council and sent to the state Legislature and the Public Utilities Commission could at least spell out the county’s concerns. She said allowing more photovoltaic on private homes, and pushing for a smart grid system to conserve energy are two options available to government.
“It’s very hard to encourage a private business to do anything,” Ford said. “All we can do is support the PUC, however, it can do something.”
Ford also said the county should put as many photovoltaic systems on county facilities as possible, as a way to become more energy self-sufficient and cut costs.
Ford has resisted the administration’s attempts to truck East Hawaii garbage to the West Hawaii landfill in Puuanahulu, even as a pilot project. She believes the county should immediately construct amaterials recovery facility at the Hilo landfill and start pulling the recyclables out of the landfill, as well as the incoming loads of garbage.
But a new Hilo landfill will still have to be built to handle the 5 percent or so nonrecyclable residuals, she said. It will probably take 20 to 30 years to take down the old landfill, Ford estimates.
Ford believes monthly furloughs are necessary as long as the county is in an economic downturn, especially since the county has deferred $34 million in future employee retirement benefits, known as GASB 45.
“We cannot continue not paying that liability,” Ford said. “But do I support layoffs? No.”