Council seeks $500K for Fire Department


The Hawaii County Council is asking the mayor to find $500,000 to bolster the Fire Department’s budget before summer begins.

But the council didn’t make the decision without a bit of dissent.

Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille introduced the resolution, which she said addressed an urgent need.

“The fire department is planning how to fund and provide for lifeguards through the summer months,” Wille said during Wednesday morning’s meeting at the West Hawaii Civic Center. “I am concerned based on the testimony that we heard, that we are at risk by not putting them in a position where they really can’t … hire now.”

She noted the council cannot allocate additional money to the department’s budget. Only the mayor has that authority, so the resolution was a request. She worried, she said, about the department being unable to hire lifeguards for the summer until it knew how much money it would be allocated in next year’s budget. Mayor Billy Kenoi is expected to issue his revised budget today.

South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford said even if Kenoi cannot afford to give the full $500,000, “some substantial amount of money” would help.

“It will get some of the lifeguards and fire engines and apparatus they need,” Ford said. “They’re giving it their all.”

Valerie Poindexter, who represents the neighboring Hamakua District, spoke out against the measure, although she ended up voting in favor of it.

“I know the police department and prosecutor’s office has also talked about their budgets and the needs and public safety as well,” she said. “When the Fire Department — fire chief, specifically — said that he understands and wanted it to be fair. They didn’t want to penalize any other department that is in need of it, too.”

Poindexter initially cast a kanalua vote. When the clerk returned to Poindexter for her final vote, she cast a yes ballot.

Council members set a hearing for 6 p.m. June 4 at the West Hawaii Civic Center on the Kona Ocean View subdivision’s water system improvement district. The district, which the council approved several years ago, will bring county water lines to the roughly 80 homes in the subdivision on Puukala Loop in North Kona. Homeowners will each pay a $15,000 assessment, either in a lump sum or monthly payments over 30 years, North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff said.

The county got a $353,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The subdivision residents will cover the remaining $1.2 million project cost.

Eoff, who lives in the neighborhood, recused herself from the vote.

The council also approved a slate of nominees for various county boards and commissions, including Dean Au to the Board of Appeals. Au’s approval came over Wille’s and Ford’s objections, not to his qualifications or character, but that the council would take a vote without a chance to talk with him. Au was unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting, and the Planning Committee had waived his nomination directly to the council.