WAILUKU - Citing questions and concerns by the public and council members, the Maui County Council's Water Resources Committee chairman called for a night meeting to allow for more public input on a bill that would give the water director, with the consent of the mayor, the power to impose higher rates during water shortages.
The bill "needs to be vetted out was much as possible," said Committee Chairman Michael Victorino on Wednesday after calling for the committee night meeting where Water Director Dave Taylor also will make a presentation on the bill.
Currently, the bill allows the director of the Department of Water Supply, with the approval of the mayor, to declare water shortages for droughts, as well as for mechanical failure, human error and natural disasters.
It also establishes two stages of water-shortage severity within the declaration that would trigger increased rates with the goal of reducing consumption during the shortage period. The rate structure has yet to be set by the council, which will address the issue in its upcoming budget sessions.
The bill already had been heard in January in the committee, which forwarded the measure to the full council. The council approved the bill on first reading on Feb. 15 but sent the measure back to committee while considering second-and-final-reading approval on March 1. Victorino made the motion to send the measure back to his committee, which was approved.
Although the committee had a "great deal of discussion" on the matter, Victorino said he still was receiving many calls from constituents, concerned about the vagueness of the bill, the broad discretionary authority it gives the water director to impose the higher rates and other issues.
At the Water Resources Committee meeting, Victorino introduced amendments to the bill that would require the water director to transmit a report to the council after declaring a water shortage, give the water director more wiggle room in dealing with a water shortage, increase publicity after a shortage is declared and revise the penalty section.
The night meeting proposal arose after the committee received public testimony and at least an hour of discussion among members. A date and time has yet to be established; no action will be taken at that meeting. The setting of a date is complicated by the approaching county budget deliberations at the end of this month.
Council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa approved of the night meeting and said she will work with Victorino and council Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Mike White on the meeting date.
"I think people need the opportunity to comment," Baisa said of the water shortage bill. "I think it's an extra step, but it is a great step."
At the upcoming night meeting, revisions and amendments proposed by Victorino and Corporation Counsel are likely to be included in the bill.
Victorino said that the changes proposed are substantial, and if the bill is amended, it will need to go through two readings again before the full council before it heads to Mayor Alan Arakawa for his signature.
Among the changes proposed by Victorino is one that calls for the water director to transmit a report to the council within 45 days after declaring a water shortage. The report will include an explanation of the shortage, the restrictions imposed, the expected duration of the shortage, any consumer violations and the types of repair and costs if the shortage is not related to a drought.
The report will be purely informational.
In another amendment, Victorino proposed giving the water director more discretion and wiggle room in whether to impose a water shortage, even if the first stage of the shortage criteria are met. The bill currently says that the water director will declare a stage one water shortage when he anticipates water demand in an area is projected to exceed available water supply by up to 20 percent.
He also made revisions to the penalty section, in which the water department could remove someone's water meter after conviction in District Court of violating water department drought directives. The amended provision basically gives the water department the power to remove someone's water meter after a second violation.
Taylor said he would not likely want to remove someone's water meter.
Victorino also proposed that the water shortage declaration be published in a newspaper weekly rather than at least bi-monthly as originally proposed.
After hearing Victorino's proposals, Taylor said his department can support the bill.
"It still meets the intentions we intended," which he explained was establishing two tiers of water shortages.
He added that the bill was never intended to be a "revenue generator."
"This bill is not intended to be a great solution," he said. "It's just one piece of the puzzle that has to come together."
"We do support this as proposed. It still meets the intentions of the plan," Taylor added.
The original bill was presented to the council as a package of three bills put forward by the water department to deal with the currently defunct Upcountry water meter list.
But in an email Wednesday afternoon, Taylor said that while the bill was part of a way to deal with the former waiting list, the bill is really part of a package of bills and proposed actions, which include capital improvement projects and associated funding to assist with countywide water issues and is not a bill solely for Upcountry issues.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.