Monday | January 16, 2017
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Westervelt: Budget is top priority

Bradley Westervelt sees the county’s budget woes as the most pressing issue facing the island, and he wants to address them as the councilman from Council District 6, spanning the south end of the island from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to Kealakekua.

‘It’s not going to get better any time soon,” he said of the grim economy.

Westervelt, 51, doesn’t support the ongoing furloughs of county employees, but he does believe a smaller workforce could help the county balance its budget.

“The county could still provide the essential services with a smaller workforce. More can be done with the people they have,” he said.

He doesn’t like furloughs, he said, because employees were hired for full-time jobs, only to find later they have “95 percent time jobs.”

“The furloughs should be ended and county employees trained to be a lot more efficient than they are,” he said.

There are many areas of potential savings in county government, Westervelt said. He would reduce the role of the legislative auditor because he believes that work is duplicated elsewhere in government.

Westervelt said the county government is still swamped in “bureaucratic red tape,” and it needs a stronger Information Technology division to make it more streamlined. Two of the departments with the most problems are the Planning Department and the Department of Public Works, he said.

Westervelt proposes first to deal with the county’s mounting garbage problem by reducing the amount of packaging that comes onto the island. Food packaging is the largest component, he said, and the way to reduce imported food is to grow more on the island.

He would like to offer Ka‘u farmers the same kind of small, leasable lots Hamakua farmers have recently been granted.

He opposes a waste-to-energy incinerator because he believes the county’s garbage is a valuable resource that is not being tapped.

“Burning it just seems like a crime,” he said. “We’re going to burn it just for a little bit of electricity?”

It’s a better idea to sort the garbage and sell it for recycling, he said. Plastics especially should be segregated from the mix, and they could be bundled and stored in a holding pen in the quarry adjacent to the Hilo landfill without subjecting the county to the usual permits and requiring a lining, he said. Once the load is big enough, or the market picks up for the plastics, it could be shipped to the mainland for a better price, he said.

The County Council doesn’t have much say over how Hawaii Electric Light Co. handles its business, he said. The only option is to make the county’s wishes known to the Public Utilities Commission and the Legislature.

“The state PUC is a behemoth, and it’s very difficult to get its attention,” he said.

Westervelt said the small population of the island compels the council to look at islandwide concerns even though members are elected by districts. He’d look out for his district, he said, such as proposing small farm lots for lease, but ultimately, the whole island has to be taken into consideration.

“I would hope they would be one and the same,” he said. “My vote would pertain just as much to the county as to the people in my district.”