Supporters rally to save Hawaii County Band - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Supporters rally to save Hawaii County Band

By Ben Gutierrez

The sound of the Hawaii County Band has been heard on the Big Island for decades.  But mayor Billy Kenoi is cutting the band's funding in his proposed budget.  Which is why the band and supporters have hit the street.

"It's a heritage that we love being part of," said supporter Theresa Pascual, "and we hate to see it go. There's so many other places to cut."

The heritage began 127 years ago, when the band was founded as the "Hilo Band."

It stays close to home, mainly playing music around Hilo and the Big Island.

"I've been in this band for 64 years, and have experienced so many adventures," said Wendell Leite, "parades, concerts, and seeing the appreciativeness of the public."

This is one of those traditions, gathering at the Mooheau bandstand for a monthly concert. Band members and their supporters say this could be coming to an end on June 30, if Mayor Kenoi has his way.

The band's $347, 000 is mainly used to pay 33 of its members a small hourly wage.

But the band says it doesn't use all that money.

Many are already volunteering.

"So for example when one of our trumpet players retires, someone comes in and plays," said bandmember Jenifer Tsuji, "but they're playing for free."

"We don't have vacations, we don't have holidays, we don't have sick leave. We purchase our own instruments. We purchase our own clothing."

But Mayor Kenoi says everything in the Hawaii County budget has taken a hit.

"It is a difficult decision," said Mayor spokesperson Desiree Cruz, "and it's one in a series of painful cuts that's going to have to be made because this is an unprecedented economic downturn."

People are signing petitions and the band's fans are coming out in force.

"I know times are tough, but this is too important to let go," said former mayor Harry Kim, "we cannot let it go."

Some councilmembers indicate they'll try to restore the funds, as they prepare for a hearing on the matter this coming Monday.

Band supporters and the administration remain hopeful:

"We're a community that loves our band, and we'll have to find an alternative source of funding. But we'll find it."

Copyright 2010 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved

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