A Maui County Council committee on Tuesday recommended approval of a charter amendment, calling for the creation of the county’s Department of Agriculture, to be entered in the November ballot.
After listening to testimony last week on the pros and cons, the Board’s Committee on Government, Ethics and Transparency met again on Tuesday and voted 6-3 in favor of the listing. of the amendment to the general election ballot.
The proposal is now heading to full council, with first reading set for July 10. It requires two readings to be entered on the ballot.
Advocates for the Ministry of Agriculture say the new ministry would increase economic opportunities in the agricultural sector, enhance the health and food security of residents through locally grown agricultural products, and promote healthy ecosystems through regeneration and regeneration. protection of natural resources.
But opponents argued that the department had just created another layer of bureaucracy for farmers, regarding the cost of the department amid tight budgets in the coronavirus era, and that more discussion was needed, in particular. with an amended version introduced after last week’s meeting that had not been approved by the Maui County Agricultural Office and other farm groups.
The committee voted on Tuesday on the amended proposal presented by Council member Shane Sinenci, the author of the proposal to create the department.
Sinenci’s amendment deleted details of the amendment and sought to create a general framework instead. These details, such as the manager’s qualifications, could be decided later. He said the amended proposal would give the mayor, council and the farming community time to discuss all issues and work out the details of the department if approved by voters.
“Members, we have received over 1,700 signatures in a petition that supports a Maui County Department of Agriculture and 150 other written testimonials in support of strengthening our agricultural hub. “ said Sinenci.
“If not us, then who?” If not now, then when? “ He asked.
Committee chairman Mike Molina, who voted in favor, said the proposed amendment affirmed respect for this “Critical industry”. He said we have lost great agriculture in Maui.
“We must look to the future” Molina said, noting that he appreciated concerns about the department’s costs.
Regarding the costs of starting and running the department, Sinenci told the Maui News last week that he plans to start a smaller department, which could cost as little as $ 700,000 to establish and operate on a budget of less than $ 700,000. $ 2 million, according to small departments.
“I see it more as an investment and an investment in our future”, said Molina. “If we are serious about farming, this is a small step to take.”
Riki Hokama, Yuki Lei Sugimura and Tasha Kama voted against the amendment.
Hokama said he had received calls from people in the farming community, including ranchers and members of the Hawaii Farmers Union United, since the June 23 meeting on the amendment.
“What they prefer is an advocate for agriculture at the moment”, he said. “A lot of them use the term commissioner, (like) we have the cinema commissioner, energy commissioner.”
Sugimura said she believes more discussions are needed, noting that not all sectors of the farming community are aware of Sinenci’s latest amendment. She added that the Maui County Agricultural Office has suggested expanding the post of Agricultural Specialist in the Mayor’s Office and creating an Agriculture Office, which could help with subsidies and marketing, land management and other questions.
Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino spoke on Tuesday evening, expressing his opposition to the proposed charter amendment.
“This proposal lacks the amount of analysis needed to determine what it will cost residents, the function and responsibilities of the department, and what other key initiatives will be removed in order to fund this new department,” he said in a statement.
The mayor said the federal and state governments already have departments of agriculture and “This proposal seeks to create a new department whose main function is simply to interpret related federal and state laws.”
Victorino argued that it would be better to wait until the formation of the Charter Commission in 2021 to “make recommendations for changes of this magnitude.”
“It is not a service rendered to the inhabitants of this county to ask questions on the ballot which are not carefully examined”, he said.
The mayor also aimed at a charter proposal from Council member Mike Molina to divide the Ministry of Housing and Human Concerns into two departments – the Ministry of Human Affairs and the Ministry of Housing, effective July 1, 2021.
“It is unwise of the council to propose changes to the organization of the county without properly analyzing how the amendments will benefit the economy, efficiency and services of this county”, said Victorino.
* Melissa Tanji can be contacted at [email protected].