Big Island mayor upbeat despite budget shortfall
By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau
HILO, Hawai'i Despite a budget shortfall estimated at $7 million, Mayor Harry Kim told a solemn Hawai'i County Council yesterday that he remains optimistic the Big Island will pull through its economic crisis.
"We live on the greatest place on Earth," Kim said at the conclusion of a 20-minute report in which he outlined requests made Tuesday in a letter to Gov. Ben Cayetano to expedite several multimillion-dollar construction jobs and provide state land for projects in Hilo and Kona.
Compounding the impact of the tourism fallout from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are a decrease of at least $1 million in the Big Island's share of hotel-room taxes collected statewide and settlement terms of the Nansay real property tax case that mean the county will collect $3 million-plus in delinquent taxes over four years instead of as a lump sum.
In addition, preliminary calculations indicate that carry-over savings from the previous administration will be $2.5 million less than expected, largely because of repairs required after last November's flooding that caused $70 million damage.
On the bright side, Kim said construction on the Big Island remains robust.
The mayor did not address how he will cut expenses to ensure a balanced budget by the end of June 2002, as required by law.
In his letter to Cayetano, Kim urged the governor to step up all capital improvement projects on the island as well as tourism promotion.
More specifically, he requested that the state turn over seven acres of land for a West Hawai'i county center near Kailua; pay off delinquent taxes on Hawaiian Homes land; and extend a lease for the Hawai'i Naniloa Hotel on Banyan Drive in Hilo that has stymied renovation efforts by its Japanese owners, who are behind in their real property taxes.
Kim also wants the state to resolve issues that are stalling a lease agreement between the University of Hawai'i-Manoa and the federal government for the $55 million Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in the UHH Research Park.
It would be nice, too, if a federal marine research vessel now being built could be home-ported on the Big Island, said Kim, who also would like to see the state expedite a contested-case hearing over more than $100 million in Saddle Road improvements so the work can begin.
Kim may get a response to his requests today, when Cayetano visits the Big Island to confer with county and business leaders.