Larry Gering sees tourism as a way out of the island’s economic woes, and he said county government is doing “nothing, nada, zilch” about it.
Gering, 70, of Hilo, a District 1 candidate for County Council, said the county should create regional open-air markets; highlight its natural attractions, such as the lava flows that snake throughout the island; and build a convention hall in Hilo to rejuvenate an area that’s been long neglected.
“I’m tired of seeing the west side get all the attention,” Gering said. “A small convention hall tied in with the Merrie Monarch Festival could bring conventions, which would bring more money and lead to better hotels. That would bring a lot more employment and a lot more tourist bucks.”
Gering thinks geothermal needs to be part of the county’s energy equation, and he proposes tapping the county’s landfills for methane gas, which is also a valuable energy source. A waste-to-energy incinerator should also be part of the mix, he said.
“We’ve got to bring waste-to-energy back to life,” he said. “We’ve got to look at the big picture.”
It’s important for the County Council to take a leading role in weaning the utility off fossil fuel and reducing electric rates, he said. That means the council also needs to get tough with Hawaii Electric Light Co., he said.
“I think we should stay on HELCO’s back, and if it doesn’t want to get on the same page to make electricity more affordable, then we should think about restructuring it,” he said. “It costs $15,000 for some people to get their solar hooked to the grid, just to join the stinking grid. That’s pure greed.”
Gering opposes expanding the Hilo landfill and opts for a waste-to-energy incinerator to handle the county’s garbage.
Tax revenues need to be spread out across the county, even if two-thirds of them come from West Hawaii, Gering said. Property values are higher in West Hawaii, so that area will always pay more property taxes, but services need to be allocated fairly according to where they are needed, he said.
“Property is more expensive over there for whatever reason,” he said. “If that’s what it is, that’s what it is.”
Gering considers furloughs a workable solution to the county’s budget problems. He doesn’t think furloughs inconvenience the public, and if county employees have a problem with them, “I throw that back at the feet of unions.”
Majority and minority factions are a natural part of government, Gering said.
“The majority vote rules and the majority vote stands for something,” he said. “You’re always going to have majorities and minorities. What I think is lacking in the council is leadership, period.”