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Gas tax money to be pumped into budget

Some $6.8 million in new fuel tax money barely survived a close County Council vote last month, but its future seems more assured now that the Department of Public Works has released a working list of resurfacing projects to be completed with the money.

The council is set to cast its final vote Wednesday on Bill 211, which puts the money into the budget so the administration can spend it. The bill passed its first reading Dec. 19 by a 6-3 vote, the minimum number of yes votes required as spending bills require a two-thirds majority.

Voting no along with Kohala Councilman Tim Richards were newly elected Puna council members Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder and Ashley Kierkiewicz.

Richards has been asking for months for a list of projects as required by the 2017 resolution that raised the tax. He was assured at a committee hearing Nov. 19 the list was forthcoming. But he didn’t get the list until the day after his Dec. 19 negative vote.

“We had this in committee, we were promised a list of the roads that were going to be worked on in our districts. And they said we’d have it in a couple, three or four weeks, and it’s a couple, three or four weeks and I’m wondering where our list is,” Richards said during the council meeting. “I’m waiting for my list.”

No one from Public Works was at the council meeting, but Finance Director Deanna Sako said a list does exist.

“I know they are working on it and they do have a list that they’re working off of,” Sako said.

“I know they have a list and I’ll remind them to get that to you guys right away.”

Richards said through a council aide Thursday he received the list “timely,” the day after the meeting.

Public Works Deputy Director Merrick Nishimoto, providing the list to the newspaper Thursday, said it’s a work in progress and the department is refining its process to update the lists in a manner more compatible with those done by the state Department of Transportation.

“It’s going to be less subjective,” Nishimoto said. “We’re doing a rating system so we compare it with the state as well, apples to apples.”

Tops on the priority list, after completion of earlier priorities, are two Hamakua projects: No. 7, Kukuihaele, and No. 8, Old Mamalahoa (Ahualoa). The Old Mamalahoa Highway project commenced May 3, according to the list.

Pahoa Post Office Road, priority No. 10, is expected to start in April. It’s not known when priority No. 11, South Point Road, will begin. Also in Ka‘u, Wakea Avenue, priority No. 12, is expected to begin in the first quarter of this year.

Three resurfacing projects, Nos. 13-15 on the list, have already commenced.

No. 13, Mamalahoa Highway in Captain Cook, fronting the fire station, began in December, while No. 14, the worst areas of Mamalahoa Highway from Teshima’s to Haukapili in North Kona, and No. 15, Kamehameha from Waianuenue to Ponahawai in Hilo, began in November.

The road money is distributed based on the percentage of county roads in each district.

Of the $6.8 million collected, $3.4 million is slated for local road improvements, $2 million for engineering and $1.4 million for engineering and inspection of bridges.

The County Council in 2017 raised the county fuel tax from 8.8 cents per gallon to 15 cents, with an additional 4-cent increase last year and another 4-cent hike coming July 1, bringing the total to 23 cents per gallon this year.

The 2017 council measure establishing the fuel tax made the increase contingent on “the timely submission of a comprehensive plan by the Department of Public Works in collaboration with the Office of the Mayor providing the following minimum information: amount to be generated by increases; information on how money will be distributed to all districts; transportation projects to be funded in each district; and time-lines for projects utilizing fuel tax revenues.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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