Rachel Thompson thinks the most pressing problems facing the county are the high unemployment rate and sluggish economy.
Thompson, 27, running for County Council District 2 representing Hilo, proposes economic renewal for the state’s second-largest city, with an emphasis on historic structures and expanding the downtown farmers market.
“There’s a lot of opportunity to improve downtown Hilo, to fix the roads, make it cleaner and improve the infrastructure, Thompson said. “It would make it more attractive to tourists, and it would create jobs.”
Thompson said she hasn’t been inconvenienced by county employee furloughs, and she sees it as one way to balance the budget for the short term. Even better, she said, would be an evaluation of government services with an eye toward restructuring and streamlining.
“We could repurpose the areas where there is duplication,” she said. “People in the county make more than the average worker in the private sector, and they have better benefits. We need to be conscious that we don’t have wasteful expenses. … We could shuffle people around to avoid duplication and make them more efficient.”
The county’s dependence on electricity from Hawaii Electric Light Co. makes it difficult to expand alternative energy sources, she said. She cites solar energy as a proven source, and said the County Council should get involved in pushing HELCO to use other energy sources in order to become more sustainable and reduce rates, some of the highest in the nation.
“The County Council absolutely should have a much bigger say in the kinds of energy we have,” she said. “I think we need to be more forward-thinking in deactivating the monopoly of HELCO.”
Thompson opposes the expansion of the Hilo landfill and says the answer to the rubbish problem is to educate people to produce less waste and recycle more. She would consider a waste-to-energy incinerator if it can be proven to be clean, with no adverse environmental or health impacts and cheaper than other alternatives.
Thompson said she’d avoid being part of a faction if possible, and work to mediate differences.
“We all have the same goal, to improve the quality of life for everyone who lives here,” she said. “We need to move forward and accept that there’s nine council members and we should all have an equal vote.”
Whether she’d be representing her district or the county as a whole depends on the issue, she said.
“A lot of issues are countywide, but there are some district-centric ones,” she said.