Former Mayor Harry Kim is worried about Hawaii County’s problems, and he wants to come back as mayor to help fix them.
The biggest issue currently facing the county, said Kim, is the grim economy and the effect it’s had on people’s livelihoods and living conditions. More than a third of all Hawaii County residents are either homeless, at risk of becoming homeless, or part of the “hidden homeless,” people living with friends and relatives.
“My goal is to make this a better place to live,” Kim said. “People are struggling. Very few people are happy if their focus is on surviving.”
Kim listed his past success making bus fares free so people could get to work and installing water spigots to give people free, clean water in the dry areas of the county.
The county could both solve its waste problem and work toward energy independence by building a waste-to-energy incinerator, Kim said. He firmly believes landfills are not the answer to the county’s solid waste problem, and he questions whether the county could get the permits to expand the Hilo landfill.
“Landfill should be the very last alternative,” Kim said. “It doesn’t matter where the landfill is. … It’s the worst use of that resource to me.”
Kim praised Mayor Billy Kenoi’s administration for including energy-saving and energy-producing components in the West Hawaii Civic Center. The project was started under the Kim administration, with energy savings and energy production part of the early plans, he said.
“The county’s job as a user of energy is to set a good example,” Kim said. “That was one of the goals of that project. … It is our responsibility to consume as little energy as possible, to minimize energy use.”
Just because West Hawaii pays about 80 percent of the taxes generated on the island doesn’t necessarily mean the region should receive 80 percent of the county’s services, Kim said.
“The American system of taxation is progressive. The more you earn, the more you pay,” Kim said. “That is the philosophy on which our tax rates are based on.”
Kim noted that four corporations, the four major resorts on the island, pay about 25 percent of all the property taxes on the island and greatly influence West Hawaii’s share of taxes.
“If that doesn’t impress you with the importance of that industry, then nothing will,” Kim said.
In addition to their relatively heavy tax burden, the resorts also seek little in the way of county services, Kim added.
“They have their own security; they make their own roads,” he said.
Kim said when he was the mayor during tough times, he chose to raise property taxes rather than institute employee furloughs. Furloughs not only hurt employees and their families, but they hurt the economy as a whole because there is less spending power, he said.
Kim is proud of the fact he added more than 500 employees — mainly fire and police — to the county payroll when he was mayor.
“That’s how far back we’d fallen,” in providing essential county services, Kim said. “I didn’t even consider furloughs.”