Planting seeds with the fiscal year 2024 budget
By Gabe Johnson
As I’ve said before, a government’s budget is a moral document, demonstrating how we take care of each other.
My initiatives included in the county’s fiscal year 2024 budget reflect my values and solutions to the problems and concerns that have been raised by my constituents.
In our county, the budget is also like planting a seed. Setting aside the money for priorities is a step toward bringing new solutions and programs to life.
Completing this process so that results can flourish and benefit the residents of Maui County takes care, time, collaboration and communication with stakeholders, the administration and the public. With the new fiscal year starting today, I’d like to use this space to highlight a few of the budget’s key elements on a variety of topics.
Here in Hawai`i, we have a close relationship with the land and know that we must take care of our natural resources for our survival and the wellbeing of generations to come.
For these reasons, I set aside $300,000 for Maui Epic Swim, an event where athletes will collect rare water samples while circumnavigating the island. In partnership with the U.N. Ocean Ambassador, this program will be documented by local filmmakers to bring global awareness to climate change and ocean health, while putting Maui at the forefront of the ocean-data revolution.
I also increased the funding for the Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project to fund its outreach position and ensure predator control at two seabird colonies. This appropriation will ensure that these species, which were some of the first to inhabit our islands, can continue to be a part of our natural and cultural landscape.
Public transportation is a critical service that our county provides. I proposed that, starting in January, monthly bus passes for students, seniors, those with disabilities and those demonstrating financial need be free.
This free bus pass will not only reduce transportation costs for our most vulnerable, it’s also an effort to increase Maui Bus ridership, which reduces traffic, makes our roads safer and lowers greenhouse-gas emissions.
I also proposed $300,000 for a feasibility study for the county to manage a ferry system for the islands of Maui, Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi. We know that reliable transportation between the sister islands of our county is a critical lifeline, and a county-managed system would ensure that the needs of our residents come first.
My top priority as the councilmember from the Lānaʻi residency area is to support the creation of affordable housing on the county-owned parcel of land on Lānaʻi.
This parcel has been set aside for housing for more than 30 years. So, I advocated to keep in the $250,000 I proposed last year for a feasibility study and master plan, the first step to getting shovel-ready.
Further, I proposed $350,000 to support the construction of a 12-bed dormitory for Aloha House, a priority I began in my first term. This funding will expand the county’s capacity to care for those experiencing substance abuse and mental health challenges.
Other community needs
I’m proud to have introduced a budget amendment to increase the wages for our PALS childcare workers once again, and this time the body voted to increase it to a minimum of $20 per hour and to raise the wages of other positions accordingly. This effort supports the childcare profession while ensuring our keiki have adequate care and supervision.
It is so meaningful to provide opportunities for our youth, which is why I initially proposed $28,000 from the Maui Interscholastic League Fund to support travel for Lānaʻi High and Elementary School athletes. My colleagues from Molokaʻi and Hāna built on this proposal to cover the costs for youth sports travel for all the canoe districts.
I also heard my community’s input for a dog park and put $400,000 for a dog park at the underused park at the end of Fraser Ave in Lānaʻi City. The needs of our rural communities are unique, and with the residency-area funds for Lānaʻi I’ve supported many local nonprofits and organizations to help my home island thrive.
These initiatives will need your continued input to help things grow in the right direction. I invite you to stay involved.
* Gabe Johnson is the Chair of the Agriculture, Diversification, Environment and Public Transportation Committee. He holds the County Council seat for the Lānaʻi residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative and community matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.