A bill before the Hawaii County Council on Tuesday would establish a community council to determine how some geothermal royalties are spent, as well as provide scholarships for Puna students.
Council Chairman Dominic Yagong wrote Bill 267, which was waived directly to the council by the Finance Committee, to amend the county’s geothermal asset fund. The amendment allows that fund to pay for community benefits, as previously paid for by a different geothermal fund.
Yagong has another bill up for final reading which replaces community benefits in its original fund with public safety.
The council will hear the bills during meetings at the West Hawaii Civic Center.
Bill 267 would establish a five-member community advisory panel to select community benefit projects on which to spend geothermal royalties.
In the past, royalties have been spent on road paving and establishing a Pahoa council office, Yagong said. The process to fund those projects involved the Puna council member asking the planning director about a project, then the planning director bringing a recommendation to the council.
Yagong said he wanted to change that procedure.
“That way, it’s applied fairly and no political motives involved,” he said. “That way, it’s the community and the people” deciding how to spend the money.
Originally, Yagong said, the geothermal asset fund was for royalties to be used when people filed claims for damage they say was caused by geothermal energy production in Puna. The fund now holds $2.1 million, and only a few people have ever filed such a claim. Bill 267 would cap asset and community benefit expenditures at $350,000 annually. Of that, $25,000 a year would be for 10 $2,500 college scholarships for students within Lower Puna.
“The (asset) fund has been virtually unused,” Yagong said.
The fund gets about $50,000 annually in new royalties, he added.
County Controller Kay Oshiro said the geothermal asset fund is kept in an interest-bearing account. The community benefit fund is mixed with the general fund and does generate interest, but the interest is not allocated to the fund, Oshiro said. From fiscal year 2009 through the middle of May, the county spent $2.7 million of the relocation and community benefit funds, she said.
Advisory group costs would be covered by geothermal asset funds.
The process for people wishing to make a damage claim will remain the same, Yagong said. They will still file the claim with the Windward Planning Commission, which assigns an adjuster to investigate the claim. The adjuster makes a recommendation, and planning commissioners take actions on that recommendation, he said.
Council members will take on Bill 256’s second reading during Tuesday’s agenda, as well as the second reading for a measure that attempts to ban aerial hunting in the county. State officials, in a letter to council earlier this month, said the council does not have the authority to ban the helicopter hunts.
Council members passed the measure anyway, with all eight members present voting in favor of it.
Council committees meet Monday at the West Hawaii Civic Center.