Billy Kenoi cites his management skills as the mayor with getting Hawaii County through some of the most troubled economic times in its history — while maintaining the county’s solid credit rating.
Kenoi said his administration has cut government costs and the number of employees every year since he took office. His most recent $365.2 million budget was $37.9 million, or 9.4 percent, less than the budget when he took office. He said he’s cut 200 positions since he took the reins in 2008, but the 2,390 employees in June 2011 reported on the county’s Consolidated Annual Financial Report are only 22 fewer than June 2008.
The mayor instituted employee furloughs to help weather the financial storm without having to lay off workers. Citing a sluggish economic recovery, he continued the furloughs even when other local governments were eliminating them.
Kenoi said a West Hawaii Today survey that showed very few people inconvenienced by furloughs just shows how the county workers stepped up to help save money and keep government running efficiently.
“Everybody’s been doing more with less,” Kenoi said. “It speaks to the quality of our employees. Things got done.”
Kenoi acknowledges that West Hawaii pays the bulk of the county’s property taxes. He justified his 2009 tax rate increase on certain classes of real estate, including the residential class that is most prevalent in West Hawaii, by saying that no class of property owner ended up paying more in taxes, because the values of the property dropped.
He cited the West Hawaii projects that came to fruition under his leadership, including the West Hawaii Civic Center, Mamalahoa Highway, Ane Keohokalole Highway, water spigots and other projects.
Kenoi was also the first mayor to put half of his cabinet in West Hawaii and have other cabinet members spend one day a week there. He did that, he said, in the interest of “equity and fairness.”
“West Hawaii has got representation it’s never had before,” he said. “West Hawaii residents have got access to government leaders they have never had before.”
On the issue of solid waste, Kenoi acknowledged the administration could have done a better job communicating to the community about a pilot project trucking Hilo garbage to the West Hawaii landfill at Puuanahulu. He doesn’t see continued trucking to be a good idea if it’s going to divide the community.
Instead, he said, he’s considering the prospect of a waste-to-energy incinerator similar to the H-Power plant on Oahu. Hawaii County’s incinerator, however, would have to be smaller because the county doesn’t have the waste stream to justify a large plant. He said he doesn’t want an incinerator to reduce the county’s recycling rate, however.
“You can’t burn everything,” he said.
Kenoi said he’d want to study the incinerator issue before committing to it, but he thinks one could be built in four to six years. There’d be no need to expand the Hilo landfill, he said, because it still has about eight years capacity left.
While the county can’t dictate to Hawaii Electric Light Co. how much energy from alternative sources to use in its grid, or what ratepayers should pay for electricity, there’s still a lot he as mayor can do.
“I’m not only the county’s chief executive, I’m the chief advocate,” he said of his attempts to work with HELCO and the Public Utilities Commission on these issues.
Foremost, however, the administration has been working to make its own buildings more sustainable, using solar panels and energy-efficient designs, he said.