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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 7, 2010

Big Island police tout benefits of new $4.5M Pahoa substation

By Jason Armstrong
Hawaii Tribune-Herald

When finished, the Police Department's new $4.5 million Pahoa Substation will improve efficiency, lower certain response times and provide greater convenience to the public, Hawaii County administrators said Friday.

"For us, it will be a real big difference," said Police Capt. Steven Guillermo, who is in charge of the Puna District.

The new facility is being built just north of town on Highway 130. The 19.4-acre, state-owned parcel also houses the $5.3 million fire station the county opened late last year.

While it won't replace the district's main station in Keaau -- police are searching for a site on which to build a new version of that aging facility -- the Pahoa Substation will allow the department to improve how its officers are deployed, Guillermo said.

"Everyone will start their day from Pahoa," he said of centralizing Puna operations there. "It will be a lot more efficient for us."

Currently, Puna officers have their daily briefing at the Keaau station, he said.

"From here, they're dispersed out to the beats that they're assigned for the day," Guillermo said.

The shift will allow police to respond faster to Pahoa and other regions of lower Puna that generate most of the district's calls for help, he added.

"We will be processing everyone down in Pahoa," Guillermo said of another function not available at the existing Pahoa Substation located near the center of town on Pahoa Village Road.

That facility is a converted HPM 1,056-square-foot, three-bedroom home, he said.

Once police move out, it will be up to Department of Public Works administrators to determine how to use the building, he said.

Besides providing more room, the new station will house equipment to view surveillance cameras the Hawaii Tourism Authority has offered to provide for Pahoa town.

"The plan is for the (video) feeds to be fed to the Pahoa Substation. That will allow us to remotely 'patrol' Pahoa town actually," Maj. Paul Kealoha said.

"It will improve operations," he said of the more-visible site fronting the highway. "We believe this facility will provide the community with better access to our police and should offer better service to Pahoa town."

Jacobsen Construction Co. Inc. is building the substation under a contract awarded last April, according to county permit records.

Calls seeking when the work will be finished, the size of the substation and other details were not returned by Public Works administrators Friday afternoon.

Plans are for the Finance Department to use about one-third of the building for its Vehicle Registration and Driver Licensing Division, Kealoha said.

Puna residents now must go to Hilo to obtain a new or renewed driver's license, a license plate or to pay, in person, their yearly vehicle registration fee, said Lee Lord, head of the Vehicle Registration and Driver Licensing Division.

"We, like the mayor, want to expand services to the outlying areas," Deputy Finance Director Deanna Sako added in a conference call involving Lord.

But while the new offices have been paid for as part of the building construction, the department still needs money to bring the licensing services to Pahoa.

Lord said he'll have to hire two new clerks -- a third is already on staff filing a Hilo vacancy and would be transferred to Pahoa -- in order to offer registration, licensing and testing services in Pahoa.

"We would need an additional $83,072," Lord said of money to pay the two employees for the budget year starting July 1.

The total cost for all three employees would be about $125,000 for the first year, Sako said, noting the expense would drop slightly in subsequent years.

The money for the two new hires is part of the proposed $375.4 million operating budget Mayor Billy Kenoi gave to the County Council on Monday.