Public lands get boost


Hawaii County voters expanded their support for public land purchases Tuesday evening, embracing two measures that increased the minimum set aside to buy those lands and creating a fund to maintain the property.

Hawaii Island voters approved the two amendments relating to the Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Fund, which was itself created through a ballot initiative several years ago. The first measure, which re-establishes the minimum percentage of property tax revenues to be set aside for the county to use to purchase land at 2 percent, passed with 62 percent of the votes cast, or 34,622 votes. A ballot initiative two years ago lowered that to a 1 percent minimum. The measure would also add language creating a restrictive covenant on the deed of any land the fund purchases and made clear the funds may only be used to purchase land or easements.

Voters also approved a second measure, which would require .25 percent of real property tax revenue be deposited into a Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Fund, with 35,595 votes, or 66 percent of the ballots cast. The fund would be capped at $3 million and would create a stewardship grant program to help nonprofits maintain and preserve land the county purchased with the preservation fund.

Hawaii County voters overwhelmingly passed a measure prohibiting county redistricting commission members from running for council office the year after they redraw the council district lines. The measure passed with 39,537 votes, or 74 percent. The next redistricting commission will convene in 2021.

Voters shot down South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford’s measure to allow the County Council to create special funds without obtaining the mayor’s recommendation. She said the council is charged with setting policy, not the mayor, and establishing such funds should fall within those policy-setting duties. About 73 percent of voters, or 40,854, opposed the measure.

Hawaii County will be getting a Game Management Advisory Commission, which Council Chairman Dominic Yagong sponsored after the discovery of axis deer on Hawaii Island and after hearing ongoing complaints about how the state conducts aerial hunts of game animals in remote locations around the island. The measure passed with 66 percent of the votes, or 36,926 votes.

County boards and commissions will now have an alternative way to notify the public for emergency meetings. The measure would remove the requirement for the meeting to be announced online or by radio, but did not affect notice for regular meetings. The measure passed with 39,129 votes, or 72 percent.

The state won’t be able to issue special purpose revenue bonds, the proceeds of which would be used to assist dam and reservoir owners to bring those dams and reservoirs up to current safety standards. Despite more voters saying yes than no, when the blank votes, which count as no votes for state constitutional amendments, were added to the no votes, the measure failed, with a combined 31,989 people voting no or leaving the question blank. That defeated the measure by 1,008 votes.

On the second state measure, voters opted to allow the state Supreme Court chief justice to appoint retired judges older than 70, the age at which they are now required to retire, as emeritus judges. The measure passed with 32,355 votes, or 51 percent.