Big Isle might split planning panel
Kona residents are upset at Hilo's power, so a vote is planned
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii » Big Island voters will get to decide whether the county needs two planning commissions -- one for each side of the island.
Last week the County Council approved putting a charter amendment on next year's general election ballot that would dissolve the current nine-member planning body and replace it with two seven-member independent planning commissions.
The battle is expected to be a geographical one, with Hilo eager to retain the power it has long held and rapidly growing Kona testing its muscle in trying to wrench away control over its own lands.
The bill was introduced by Kona Councilman Angel Pilago, who also is running for mayor in next year's election. If he were to win, Pilago would be the first mayor from West Hawaii.
While some fear two planning commissions could further exacerbate a perceived split between the east and west sides of the island, others see the move as resolving some long-standing grumbling points.
Higher property values, including a half-dozen luxury resorts and ever-multiplying multimillion-dollar mansions, on the western side mean Kona taxpayers supply most of the county's property tax revenues. But those revenues are generally controlled from the county seat in Hilo.
This has long left residents in the Kona, Kohala, Puna and Kau districts feeling shortchanged.
"Two independent planning commissions would be better equipped to focus on issues specific to the respective affected districts," the ordinance states. They would "promote clear and concise regional discussions regarding levels of service, mitigation measures and future planning deficits."
County Council Chairman Pete Hoffmann of Waimea said the issue is important enough that it should be decided by the people, rather than by the Council.
He dismissed claims it would further divide the island.
"No one is trying to split the island here. In fact, it's just the opposite," he said. "It will give more opportunity to get involved and to say what you'd like to see happening."
If the measure is approved, the existing planning commission would remain in place until April 1, 2009.