For the past four decades, Joe Pluta has kept a watchful eye on his community. Pluta, the owner-principal broker of Joseph D. Pluta Realty LLC, is a founding member of the West Maui Taxpayers Association (WMTA), a nonprofit lobbying organization that advocates for West Maui and its residents. The WMTA actively identifies community needs, determines how they can be met, and then lobbies county and state officials to secure support for projects that are often badly needed.
Since 1979, Pluta has served as WMTA’s president, vice president, treasurer, membership director, Lahaina Bypass project initiator and West Maui hospital chairman. He says a cadre of community leaders—including Jack Ruggles, Jack Millar, Don Aus, James “Mac” Lowson, Ron Kawahara and Uwe Schulz—roused him into action. “Meeting with these devoted leaders and volunteers was truly inspirational,” Pluta said. “I made a commitment to them to match their dedication and devotion to West Maui.”
And for the past 38 years, he’s fulfilled his commitment. Simply put, Pluta took up the cause because he loves his community. “I wanted to do all I could to make this a better place for me, my family and my real estate clients,” he said.
Since it was founded in 1974, the WMTA has kept its finger on the pulse of West Maui and monitored all issues affecting the region, including infrastructure, public safety, education, water quality, parks and public space maintenance—and everything in between. Among other things, in recent years, the WMTA paved the way for the Lahaina Bypass project; oversaw improvements to Napili Park; and helped create the West Maui Skate Park and Pohaku (“S-Turns”) Park.
The WMTA also works alongside the West Maui Improvement Foundation, Inc. (WMIF), a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that aims to improve the West Maui community by receiving and expending funds for the erection and maintenance of public buildings and services, as well as community facilities. (The WMIF is restricted from direct political campaigning and lobbying or raising funds for these purposes.)
“We wanted to improve access to West Maui for ambulance and fire services from Honokowai to Kapalua, which is rated as the highest-risk fire protection class—and we only had one ambulance at the time taking 911 calls to a hospital over an hour away under the best conditions,” Pluta explained. “When we decided to start an effort to privately develop and equip the Napili Fire and Ambulance Station, we needed a 501(c)3 nonprofit to be a charitable organization recipient of funds donated for that purpose.”
The WMIF also led the charge for the much-longed-for West Maui Hospital and Medical Center, which is slated to open in late 2018. “As WMIF’s president, I synergized efforts from 1999 to 2014 to obtain a certificate of need (CON) for the West Maui hospital,” Pluta said.
WMIF continues to work tirelessly to ensure the prioritization of West Maui’s infrastructure needs, and Pluta says the organization’s track record for return on investment is unparalleled. “The ongoing dividends received from WMIF-led projects continue to save the community money and improve the quality of living here in West Maui,” he said.
That’s why Pluta encourages all West Maui residents to get involved. “The absolute best return on investment any person or business can make who has an interest in West Maui is, at a minimum, an annual membership donation to the WMTA,” he said. “Our track record speaks for itself.”
An annual WMTA membership is $25 for community supporters; $50 for regular members; and $100 for business members. Tax-deductible contributions to the West Maui Improvement Foundation, Inc. can be mailed to P.O. Box 12278, Lahaina, HI 96761.
The WMTA encourages residents to attend community meetings, including monthly Hawaii Hazards Awareness and Resiliency program meetings and thematic “hot topics” meetings throughout the year. The next “hot topics” meeting will cover affordable housing and homelessness; it will be held at the West Maui Senior Center in Lahaina from 4:30 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 14. The WMTA’s annual meeting will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2018, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the West Maui Senior Center.
For more information about the West Maui Taxpayers Association or the upcoming “hot topics” meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, visit www.westmaui.org. To learn more about the West Maui Improvement Foundation, visit www.westmauiimprovementfoundation.org.
By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – September 9, 2017