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Over opposition, Kaua‘i County Council approves American Rescue Plan Act funding

LIHU‘E — After debate on Wednesday, the Kaua‘i County Council approved a plan which would spend the bulk of the latest round of American Rescue Plan Act funding on the renovation of the former Big Save space at the Lihu‘e Civic Center Pi‘ikoi Building in Lihu‘e into a child care and youth center.

Of a total of $10.8 million in federal funds, $7 million will go to the center — enough to cover a large chunk of the project, but likely not enough to complete it.

The remaining money will go toward a heavy wash rack for garbage trucks ($2 million), a Kilauea land purchase for housing ($1 million), hauling of cover soil for Kekaha Landfill ($600,000), the completion of plans and demolition related to the Kaua‘i Police Activities League Sports Complex ($100,000), and administrative costs ($125,000).

The council approved the plan in a 6-1 vote.

The one dissenting vote came from Councilmember Felicia Cowden, who advocated for an amendment to the proposal that would allocate $1 million of the funds originally earmarked for the child care center toward emergency temporary shelter for the homeless.

“It’s helpful for our businesses, it’s helpful for our neighborhoods, its helpful for our parks and it’s helpful for our displaced people,” said Cowden of her proposed amendment.

Other councilmembers stood by the original plan, arguing the child care center was an important expenditure that needed to be made soon.

“If we’re defunding the child care center it makes it less likely to complete within the time frame,” said Councilmember Luke Evslin. “I also feel like child care is becoming a core county function. One of the major barriers to reentering the workforce is child care.”

County Managing Director Michael Dahilig reported that some of the $4 million remaining funds from the first round of ARPA could possibly be used for a project like Cowden suggested.

The amendment was voted down 6-1.

Former Mayor JoAnn Yukimura also testified against the plan, arguing the money should instead go toward core functions.

“This feels like the adolescent drug treatment center all over again,” she said. “Building a building without a plan as to who will operate it and what the requirements for the building would be based on an operational plan.”

She laid out a list of other uses she thought the money would be better spent on, including office space in the Pi‘iloki Building or a materials recovery facility for solid waste.

Testimony on the plan from Hawai‘i Government Employees Association Executive Director Randy Perreira warned about pending arbitration that may determine HGEA workers are entitled to hazard pay for their work during the pandemic.

“The decision of this pending arbitration could place an enormous financial commitment on the County of Kaua‘i,” wrote Perreira. “ARPA funds were designated in part to address hazard-pay claims.”

Dahilig said the county was also facing pending arbitration with the State of Hawai‘i Organization of Police Officers and the United Public Workers unions regarding hazard pay.

The $1.9 trillion ARPA, which passed the U.S. Congress and was signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2021, provided $130 billion for local governments. In the first round, Kaua‘i received $10 million, which was used for emergency response, mental health services, jobs programs and grants for nonprofits and the arts, among other projects.

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Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-0329 or gscrimgeour@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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