Candidates focus on jobs, housing and budget at forum
LAHAINA – What would Alan Arakawa or Tamara Paltin do if elected mayor next Tuesday?
Answers emerged from a variety of questions posed to candidates for county mayor at a forum sponsored by the Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunset recently.
Following up last week’s first column, here are the highlights of how the “Q&A” went:
1. What projects would you push for in the budget to improve our infrastructure or meet other needs? ARAKAWA: The mayor sets 90 percent of the budget. We need to build parks, fix roads and create a 1,000-acre farm to use wastewater. We are going to develop more tennis courts. PALTIN: I would invest a lot more in wastewater and infrastructure. We are unprepared for disasters. We need shelters, and if needed, get help from the state if the county does not have the money.
2. What role does the county have in creating jobs, and what would you do to promote job growth? PALTIN: A big part of this should be community-based. We need to encourage local businesses and keep profits here and not send them to the Mainland. We need our own mortuary in West Maui. ARAKAWA: We are trying to create opportunities for small business. We started Friday town parties and worked on Halloween. We are giving three million (dollars) to the visitor industry. We need to build parking facilities (in Lahaina).
3. Everybody talks about the need for affordable housing. What ideas would you like to see the council adopt to get us affordable housing? ARAKAWA: This is one of the most difficult problems to work on. The council has been working on building a lot of housing and passed two housing bills. Projects have been stalled by these two bills. I vetoed both of them. We need to put the percent down to 25 percent instead of 50 percent (the percentage of affordable housing developers must build in a project). PALTIN: Jesse Spencer has been able to build affordable housing. If he can do it, why can’t others do it? It is difficult to get permits, but it can be done. There should be a way to do it.
4. The county has a huge budget. In every city and state, there is a certain amount of wasteful spending. What would you do to assure we as taxpayers get our money’s worth? PALTIN: I see a lot of waste. Workers could save dollars (at the end of the budget year) by not trying to spend every dollar. If they saved dollars, part could go to their pension funds. The executive branch is much bigger than it should be. ARAKAWA: One of the challenges is we have a growing county. We need to be able to fund programs. Our budget is bare bones. We have to try to catch up on needs. Thousands of kids want playing fields.
5. Studies have shown that treated wastewater is seeping into the ocean from injection wells in West Maui, destroying reefs. The county could be fined up to $100 million for failure to comply but is spending money on lawyer fees to defend its practices. What are your views on this situation, and what steps if elected would you take to fix the problem? ARAKAWA: The county is very advanced in the way we handle wastewater. We were among the first to go to secondary and tertiary treatment. We are trying to create a 1,000-acre farm (that uses wastewater). It takes time to get things corrected. We can’t automatically start the process. We are doing all we can. The treatment system has undergone upgrades. PALTIN: The problem has been evident since 1990. Because of county foot-dragging, there has been no action by the EPA. A federal judge has denied the county’s appeal. Instead of spending on legal fees, we should be spending to fix the problem. The first step is to set aside $14 million each year.
6. Some county department heads have an excellent reputation running effective departments. Some have a poor reputation, and at least one has been forced to resign. What would you do to assure that department heads are chosen on the basis of their expertise and not other considerations? PALTIN: You want department heads who are experienced and workers who are unbiased. In the past, department heads have been chosen because they were donors. There are some people doing a good job and others who are not. ARAKAWA: You may not be qualified. You need engineers; people with business management skills. We have brought in young people. Everyone has to have good management skills.
7. What do you most admire about your opponent? PALTIN: I admire the mayor because he came up through the ranks. He is compassionate. But being in this position, it is easy to lose touch with front-line problems. My main concern is just business as usual. We need to be more responsive and inclusive. We need to have motivated people. ARAKAWA: I admire my opponent because she is working and a mother and can still run for office.
Two leading contenders for mayor. One has served eight years; the other is a newcomer to politics. Be sure to vote Nov. 4 for the candidates of your choice. You can also vote absentee or walk in to the County Building at any time to vote.
The winner will help shape Maui for the next four years and perhaps for years to come.
Columnist’s Notebook: You can read more about candidates and issues on my website at http:voicesofmauiwordpress.com.