The meeting of the Maui County Council's Planning Committee on Thursday, Feb. 6, was thinly attended. Only a handful of people showed up to hear how the council would deal with the language in "A Bill for an ordinance adopting the Maui Island Plan Implementation Program (PC-46)." This required chapter must include a sound fiscal plan, a list of priorities and future capital improvement estimates.
Known as Chapter 10, it is the final segment of the plan that has been in the works for over seven years (since the fall of 2006), when members of the General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC) were first appointed, and even longer, if the actions of prior administrations to prepare for the massive planning venture are included.
Now, the council hopes to put the final piece in place by March 31.
Maui County Councilmember Don Couch chaired the Planning Committee meeting on Chapter 10, the final implementation of the Maui Island Plan.
The version under consideration was drafted by the county Planning Department and dated Nov. 29, 2013. In this document, virtually all of the specific details proposed in earlier incarnations approved by GPAC and the Planning Commission have disappeared.
Not surprisingly, given the massive deletions, the administration representatives argued for "flexibility" and urged the council to be cautious about including specifics that might prove problematic--or worse yet--"binding" in future years, when circumstances, priorities and financing may change.
What the council reviewed was the administration's revision that had lingered for 13 months in the Planning Department. In addition, the council also had in-hand a "Ramseyered" version. (a technical document that shows new language underlined in black and language to be deleted printed in red with a line drawn through the words to be removed). The Ramseyered document was a sea of red ink with virtually every specific financial detail removed, and in their place, vague general statements and aggregate numbers substituted.
The only person to offer public testimony was Dick Mayer, GPAC vice chair, who objected to wholesale removal of specifics. In his opinion, there were "too many missing numbers and detail lacking"--especially, he said, the initials "TBD," standing for "to be determined" that are liberally sprinkled through the pages.
After Mayer's testimony, Planning Committee Chair Don Couch announced his intent to hear a brief statement by Will Spence, director of the county Planning Department, and then take up the content of Chapter 10 one department at a time, beginning with Dave Taylor, director of the Department of Water Supply.
But before they heard from the pair of administration spokesmen, Michael Hopper, a deputy of Corporation Counsel, gave his interpretation of the proposed language as it related to the County Charter. In his opinion, there was not necessarily a conflict between Chapter 10, which is supposed to set goals through the year 2030 "to the extent practicable," and the county's normal budget cycle, which is more specific and runs on a shorter timetable.
But both Spence and Taylor were persuasive as they recounted scenarios where things could change, come up unexpectedly, or, as in the recent financial crash, go downhill fast and with little prior notice. They cautioned against putting language in an ordinance that would legally bind the county to certain actions that might not be in its best interest as years passed and priorities changed. They felt the place for that level of detail is in the community plans, which are far behind schedule and have not yet begun.
Even so, several council members, including Gladys Baisa, seemed taken aback: With all the specifics gone, "we have no idea of detail," she pointed out.
Other members noted that a lot was now missing from the pages before them--no Lipoa Point, no county base yard and many other items old and new that they had expected to find itemized were not included.
Taylor replied that it was impossible to be more precise than the likely accuracy of the forecast, which he thought could be off as much as "plus or minus 25 to 30 percent" in either direction.
"If we could actually see the future," Taylor said, "we wouldn't need a council or a planning director."
Taylor shared a story from his own experience. Starting as a junior engineer in the county Water Department in 1993, he eventually became the department head some 20 years later. As a "youngster" preparing detailed projections, he recalled finding that as the years went by, so many things had changed that there was little accuracy to the forecast.
He warned against "precision without accuracy," essentially meaning that forecasts could be no more specific than the level of reliability that was inherent in the projections. With a spread of 60 percent, he felt that there could be some big misses.
"Why give a false sense of certainty when we know it's not going to happen?" he asked.
Both Spence and Taylor said the council would see some degree of detail in the "action steps," and asked them to forbear until those steps were considered.
Under questioning from Councilmember Elle Cochran, it was revealed that the aggregate total of $250 million envisioned for water supply costs through 2030 were only the numbers for "growth." The numbers for repair and maintenance, estimated to be another $250 million, were not included.
Taylor said it was his understanding the plan was to focus on "growth," so items not related to expansion were not part of the forecast.
A murmur ran through council chambers as its members contemplated how the document would serve as a useful blueprint for the future if only half of the future was included.
Spence attempted to reassure them, saying there would be annual reports, with the first one expected to reach their desks later this year.
Also briefly touched upon--but not discussed in-depth--was who would pay for future growth. Taylor reiterated that, for example, the over $12,000 in "impact" fees charged for each new water meter were "restricted funds" that could be used to support new growth, while the charges paid by rate payers were "unrestricted funds" and could be used for a variety of purposes necessary for the operation of the department.
Despite the many deletions, the phrase "special taxing district" remained in the chapter and raised a few eyebrows.
"Special taxing districts?" asked Couch. "Are you counting on that?"
"It's not in our financial plan," Taylor replied, "but it's open. That question is always out there."
Though a variety of other department heads were waiting in wings to be called, their views on the chapter and its current wording were not heard that day.
Hearings will continue on the implementation chapter with action expected before the end of March and at least one public hearing before then.