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Kawakami touts plans for increased disaster preparedness in State of the County speech

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Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami delivering the 2024 State of the County Address in Līhu‘e. Photo Courtesy: County of Kaua‘i

Kaua‘i Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami delivered his sixth State of the County Address at the Līhu‘e Civic Center on Thursday.

In his March 14 speech, Mayor Kawakami outlined the administration’s proposed fiscal year 2025 budget, which reflects an operating budget of $344.9 million and a capital improvement budget of $103.6 million.

Acknowledging the devastation on Maui, Mayor Kawakami began his address explaining this year’s budget goals to improve Kaua‘i’s own response plans and prioritize disaster preparedness, community planning and creating a resilient community “that will thrive for generations to come.”

Mayor Kawakami addressed a crowd of over 150 people on Thursday. Photo Courtesy: County of Kaua‘i

In the county’s efforts to reduce fire risk and fuel sources, Mayor Kawakami announced this year’s budget will include $2.7 million in heavy equipment for Kaua‘i roads crews to help manage vegetation, and added $1.5 million to cover costs to clear brush and large debris from county properties. The Kaua‘i Fire Department will also acquire two water tenders and a brush fire-fighting apparatus to enhance fire response.


A continued priority on infrastructure will carry over into this year’s budget proposal, requiring significant investments in both maintenance and planning. 

“Our road resurfacing program has prioritized our island’s worst roadways and with dedicated GET funds we are making steady progress,” said Mayor Kawakami. “We are approaching a milestone of 50% of all county roads either having been repaved or are contracted for repaving, with another 41 lane miles coming up this year.”

Affordable housing remains important in this year’s budget. With private developer partners, the county broke ground on 221 new affordable housing units in 2023, with 288 units nearing construction. The county aims to build at least 30 supportive housing units in every district of Kaua‘i, starting with 32 supportive housing units at Lima Ola slated to open in June. The county is also in various stages on several other proposed development projects in Puhi, Waimea and Kīlauea.

“In total, we are devoting nearly 90 acres of county land to housing projects that will serve our kupuna, low-income families and our workforce,” said Mayor Kawakami.

From left: Maui Mayor Richard Bissen, Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke, Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami and Hawai‘i Island Mayor Mitch Roth. Photo Courtesy: County of Kaua‘i

As the Kaua‘i Housing Agency makes headway with building more homes for Kaua‘i’s local families, the Department of Parks and Recreation and CIP project managers can focus on creating safe spaces for children to play. In addition to significant improvements to the county’s Vidinha and Hanapēpē stadiums, the county is expanding the construction of skateparks in Hanapēpē and Nāwiliwili, and will begin construction on the island’s second inclusive playground, which will be located in Waimea.

Mayor Kawakami also acknowledged the success of Kaua‘i Police Department’s Safe Exchange Zones for safe child custody exchanges, and announced that this year’s budget proposal will include the expansion of this program at all police stations from Hanalei to Waimea. Additionally, three full-time school resource officer positions are being added to offer police presence at all three public middle schools.

After sitting dormant for over a decade, Mayor Kawakami announced that the county will begin construction to revitalize the Līhu‘e Civic Center’s old Big Save space, which will serve as a hub for early childcare, education and other youth programs.

Mayor Kawakami closed his speech on Thursday with an announcement to the county of Kaua‘i’s workforce that this year’s budget proposal will offer all county employees a free healthcare option.


“We know the rising cost of living on Kaua‘i makes it harder for working families to make a living and many are leaving for the mainland,” said Mayor Kawakami. “Unfortunately, I can’t set salaries or wages for government positions, but with the support of our labor unions, we are dedicating more than $3 million of our county budget to pay the full cost of our basic healthcare premiums. That means every county employee on a 75-25 HMSA or Standard Kaiser healthcare plan will pay nothing for those plans. We’re paying for prescription, dental and vision care, too. That’s up to $200 a month going right back to our associates’ paychecks.”

Finding creative ways to boost recruitment and retention efforts were credited as the reason to fund employee healthcare premiums. Mayor Kawakami continued, “When I leave office, if we have created a culture where employees feel appreciated, I would have done my job. Because an organization where employees feel cared for will in turn care for others.”

“As captain of this ship, I can’t set sail without a crew. You all have helped us to chart this course toward a better Kaua‘i, where our local families have diverse, successful careers that afford them the opportunity to own a home,” said Mayor Kawakami said in his closing remarks. “Where our children feel safe in our public schools and parks. Where our community is prepared to overcome adversity and adjusts to ever-changing environments so that our families can continue to thrive. That is the Kaua‘i I wish for my son and daughter – and your sons and daughters. And we will continue to work with all of you to chart that course for Kaua‘i’s future.”

To view Mayor Kawakami’s State of the County Address, visit www.facebook.com/countyofkauai.

To view a copy of the full speech, click here.


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