WAILUKU – The decision on whether Upcountry residents get more county water meters ultimately lies with the county’s fiscal policymakers, acting Department of Water Supply Director Dave Taylor said Wednesday.
“Not to kick the can to you guys, but it’s really a fiscal policy question,” Taylor said during his confirmation hearing before the Maui County Council’s Policy Committee. “Only the council can decide how much this is worth to pursue. We really can’t make that decision for the council.”
Following the recommendation of committee Chairman Riki Hokama, the panel voted 9-0 to recommend adoption of a resolution approving Mayor Alan Arakawa’s appointment of Taylor to head the county’s water department.
On Wednesday, the committee also unanimously recommended approval of John D. Kim as the county’s chief prosecuting attorney. Council members noted that Kim had received universal support during his Jan. 25 confirmation hearing.
Acting Corporation Counsel Pat Wong also had his nomination heard last month, but action on his appointment was deferred then and on Wednesday.
The Policy Committee grilled Taylor on numerous operational and policy questions, including the county’s Upcountry water meter list. That list has more than 2,000 people waiting for water meters, some for at least a decade.
Last fall, dozens of Upcountry residents appealed to the council to purchase a private well in Makawao and/or develop water sources so they could subdivide their properties with family members and build homes.
Council Members Gladys Baisa and Mike White, who hold the Upcountry and Makawao-Haiku-Paia residency seats, respectively, pressed Taylor for answers on how he’d address the Upcountry water meter list.
“I’ve been told in this chamber many times that administration doesn’t make policy, and I should follow the policies of council and not make my own,” Taylor said. “I respect that.”
He said he believed that discussions about reservoirs, tanks, wells and other possible water sources for Upcountry should be set aside to allow frank talks about fiscal equality and paying for the water meters.
County policymakers need to decide first how to pay for Upcountry meters, Taylor said. Options include charging the new users, spreading the costs among general rate payers or seeking support from state and federal governments.
At the beginning of his confirmation hearing, Taylor, the county’s former Wastewater Reclamation Division chief, said he considered it an honor to be appointed as director of the water department.
“The problems we’re facing today are no different than what every county has faced when infrastructure reaches its limits,” he said.
The licensed civil engineer said he believed that the county’s problems could be addressed if officials decided to work together.
“The single biggest challenge is finding an equitable, fiscal rate structure for consumers,” he said.
The fiscal question, Taylor said, is the “key to resolving all infrastructure questions.”
For his part, Taylor said he has assigned his engineers to develop a cost analysis of the Upcountry water meter lists. Staff members have been directed to put every request for a water meter on a map, then place an overlay with the existing water systems and identify what improvements need to be made and estimate the costs.
“This is going to take a long time,” Taylor said of the time needed to go through each water meter request. “I think it’s worth the wait because we have to quantify this problem.
. . . I am absolutely concerned that we don’t have a handle on this.”
Even after costs are estimated, county officials would need to determine what areas can get meters and which of the water meter applicants can even afford to pay for the system improvements.
“Everybody wants a solution tomorrow, and you’re all wanting me to say I have a magical solution, but all I have for us is a standard engineering methodology that will yield results. We’re going to have to follow it,” he said.
At the earliest, a preliminary analysis of the Upcountry water meter list might be ready this summer, Taylor said.
In recommending approval of his appointment, council members said they were satisfied with Taylor’s appearance before the panel and appreciated his candid and straightforward responses.
Baisa said she felt a sense of hope that Taylor was willing to search for answers to the county’s ongoing water issues.
“He understands what he’s walking into,” she said.
Council Member Mike Victorino, chairman of the council’s Water Resources Committee, said he looked forward to working closely with Taylor. “I think he brings a breath of fresh air to the county,” he said.
Council Chairman Danny Mateo said it was “nice” to hear Taylor take on tough questions and not shy away from providing answers.
“There is no quick fix, but at least we can make an attempt,” Mateo said.