The pace of public projects has slowed as the county nears its prudent borrowing limits and seeks other revenue sources to build needed roads, wastewater systems, workforce housing and fire stations.
Mayor Harry Kim’s capital improvement budget released last week listed 39 projects costing $190.9 million next year. That’s a significant decrease from the 85 projects costing $231.9 million in the 2013 budget released by former Mayor Billy Kenoi.
The county’s bond debt ratio, based on all debt approved by the County Council, is at 12.43 percent of general expenditures, close to the 15 percent ceiling recommended by the Government Finance Officers Association.
Kim and a minority of council members are recommending the county adopt a half-cent general excise tax surcharge to help fund road and transit projects.
Currently, all of the money collected in general excise taxes goes into state coffers.
Even with an $8.8 million boost next year from a fuel tax increase, Kim said in his budget message, “there is still not enough to allow us to do the larger road projects that are also needed, such as the Ane Keohokalole extension to Kaiminani Drive.”
That doesn’t mean the project is postponed, said Aaron Stene, a former blogger who keeps close track of Big Island road projects. Stene pointed to an April 6, 2017, presentation about road projects posted on the Department of Public Works website that estimates a notice to proceed on a shovel-ready project is planned for December 2020.
“Bear in mind the county wasn’t planning on starting construction until 2020,” Stene said.
The project to extend the major thoroughfare from Hina Lani Street to Kaiminani Drive is estimated at $40 million. It’s a community priority and one of the top road projects endorsed by the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce.
But the road extension isn’t listed in the county’s six-year capital improvement budget. Two other West Hawaii road projects — Henry Street reconstruction and Oneo Lane — are listed in the 2018-24 plan, as well as two East Hawaii projects — Puhala Street extension and 4-Mile Creek Bridge replacement.
Although the Ane Keohokalole extension isn’t listed in the six-year CIP, a contract for an archaeological study is in process and soon to be executed, said Public Works spokesman Barett Otani.
He said the project is not yet in the design or engineering stage.
Materials provided by the Kim administration in support of the GET surcharge say the money could enable the county to “fast-track” the project.