The annual spring community meetings of the Maui County Council's Budget Committee are as certain as the Easter lilies that announce the change of seasons.
These community meetings are dynamic reminders of our representative democracy as council members travel to all parts of the county and listen to residents' ideas, complaints, hopes and desires.
Monday, April 2, was Kihei's turn, and council members did not make the trip in vain as more than 110 people turned out to participate in shaping the county's $558.2 million Fiscal Year 2012-13 budget proposed by Mayor Alan Arakawa.
Boy Scouts sign in at the Maui County Council Budget Committee hearing in Kihei. The scouts and adult leaders asked for funding to help repair their Camp Maluhia facility, one of the largest wilderness camps in the nation.
Testifiers spoke in favor of several MEO programs, including rental assistance, bus transportation, youth programs, Head Start and Enlace Hispano.
Two of those testifying clearly held the attention of council members and the audience.
One was 4-year-old Makamae Elaban, who approached Councilmember Joseph Pontanilla, and on behalf of her Head Start class, presented a photo collage of pre-school educational activities as she asked the committee to continue funding for the program.
The other was Ana Garcia, who told the committee, "This island is my home and where I have raised my five children. When we moved here in 1994, we were very pressed economically. So my husband brought home food from the restaurant where he worked and that fed us breakfast, lunch and dinner."
The Enlace Hispano program is the only venue that provides services to the growing Hispanic population on Maui.
"Two years ago, my children went to MEO Head Start. I also went to school and recently achieved my Certified Public Accountant [CPA] certification," Garcia said. "Now, in addition to having my CPA designation, I also volunteer as a budget assistant at MEO. You see, we can say that this program is a hand up and not a hand out."
Additional members of the audience addressing the council asked for support for the Boy Scouts capitol improvement program for Camp Maluhia, Kihei Youth Center (KYC), SPCA Maui, Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) and its Focus Maui Nui Youth Alliance, Hui Malama Learning Center, Maui Humane Society, Best Buddies Hawai'i, Read Aloud Program, Parents and Children Together (PACT), Mental Health America, enforcement agents to monitor the recently passed short-term rental ordinance, the Hauoli Street drainage project in Ma'alaea and Hale Kau Kau, a South Maui program that provides meals for the homeless and homebound.
Speaking on behalf of the Kihei Youth Center, William Fey told council members the center is "important to the community and to my family. Its affordability is important as the cost of living goes up."
KYC membership is initially $10 per child, and $5 per year to renew.
Fey also asked for support for the Maui Food Bank that helps with lunch and snacks, and during school holidays, makes it possible for the KYC to serve breakfast to the low-income children that are served by its programs.
Lucy Feinberg, Maui regional director of PACT, asked for continued support of the Maui Family Peace Center and its domestic violence services. The center serves the entire County of Maui and is funded by the State Judiciary, but, according to Feinberg, can provide services because of support from the county.
Rob Riebling, vice-president of the Ma'alaea Community Association, and Ralph Overton, vice president of the Island Sands Condominium Association, spoke in strong support of the proposed Hauoli Street drainage improvements, looking forward to the solution of an adequately sized culvert and water retention basin above Ma'alaea.
Overton pointed out that Ma'alaea took a large part of the brunt of the floods of December 2010. Ma'alaea is one area among many in South Maui where the county has begun to address flood prevention work that had been deferred for years.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Pontanilla, the chair of the County Council's Budget and Finance Committee, was asked why meetings of this type are important.
"When I first became a council member, really I didn't know anything about the organizations that do come to the county for requests for funding," he replied. "Now, as the budget chair, I have been really involved in the community, learning what the needs are. And at these public hearings--this is where some of the new members get an idea of what kinds of services are provided by the nonprofits that come out to testify.
"Some of the stories they talk about are personal stories, and just hearing young people talk about their personal issues is heartwarming," Pontanilla added.
For more information, go to www.mauicounty.gov and click on budget and finance committee.