A week from Monday, Hawai‘i County will swear in a new Mayor. But until noon that day, Billy Kenoi remains the chief executive of Hawai‘i County. He spoke with HPR contributing reporter Sherry Bracken about his 8 years in office.
Since 2009, the current administration has completed more than 160 major projects on Hawai'i Island. That’s more than 630 million dollars on roads, parks, sewers, housing—even rodeo arenas. Mayor Kenoi says he’s proud of the transformative nature of that spending.
Kenoi: “Community projects that people have waited decades for. Think back to 2009, unemployment was headed towards 11.2%, today it’s under 4%. It was a time for leadership, people working together. The community trusted us, fiscal ratings, bond ratings, health of our community, low unemployment, innovative programs and services, new roads and parks…we believe we’re leaving Hawai'i County better than we found it.”
The incoming Mayor inherits a budget of $462 million dollars, an increase of less than 15% over 8 years. That’s the lowest percentage increase in the county budget in at least 35 years. Before the election, some candidates expressed concern about the borrowing capacity of the county.
Kenoi: “People should not be concerned. General Accounting Services Board has a recommendation, that you not exceed 15% of your operating budget. We’re at about 9 to 10% right now. If we were to issue all bonds authorized to be issued, that would go up to 12, 13%. So there is still room to grow with new projects. The debt service, which is the money you pay on the money you borrow, every year we have to pay that…it’s $43 million dollars. When we took office that debt service was $43 million dollars”.
Mayor Kenoi faced a personal challenge, with the State’s Attorney taking him to trial for theft, based on use of the county purchasing card. Twelve jurors acquitted Kenoi of all charges.
Kenoi: “all lessons are lessons learned, and an opportunity to be better. I’m so thankful to a great group of people who stayed focused and so proud of Takako and the kids, I’m very thankful for this Hawai'i Island community. When somebody makes serious allegations it’s offensive, and you challenge it. That opportunity to have the truth laid out… to be judged not guilty… I’m humbled to have experienced that process.”
Mayor Kenoi has a long relationship with Harry Kim, who not only will follow him as Mayor, but preceded him, as well.
“Me and Harry got one story somebody can write a book about, football coach since I was 8 years old, and we end up running against each other. I look forward to the Kim administration and their vision. Their success means that our island continues to grow, thrive, and be a healthy and safe place to call home.”
As for his plans after he turns over the reins to incoming Mayor Kim?
Kenoi: “I look forward to taking the next step, to stepping away from politics, but never public service. I’ll always help. I look forward to teaching. I want to open the doors of higher education for local kids, uncles and aunties, to advocate for people most in need. Spending time with my kids.”