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County Council Update

Upcoming county council agenda items:

Resolution 140 Kohala Kai Public Access Easement: This resolution will be considered by the Council’s Finance Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 18. The Kohala Kai development is located makai of Kohala Estates, just north of Kawaihae Harbor. The development contains seven already approved oceanfront lots, with more lots not yet approved. The primary concern is that the Planning Department approved a shoreline edge location for the lateral public access, rather than, as requested by the National Park Service, along the ancient Ala Loa Trail. The public also expressed concerns about the difficulty of traversing the shoreline trail and the mauka-makai trail as now constructed. Another issue raised is the limited parking and its distance from the head of the public access trail. From a procedural perspective, those testifying also objected to the Planning Department’s approval of the shoreline trail location, without first having received the required public access plan – that could have then been reviewed by the public. The question at this point is which of these concerns can or should the Council address.

Resolution 272 (M. Wille): This “Home Rule” resolution passed the Council’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee with a positive recommendation and will be heard by the council on Feb. 19. The resolution urges state legislators to clarify that the State Right to Farm Act was meant to prevent the encroachment of urbanization into agricultural operations and was not intended as a vehicle for the agro-chemical corporations to nullify county laws or court action involving legitimate nuisance claims. This resolution is important as a policy statement to counter pending state bills aimed at amending the Right to Farm Act, in order to void the County’s current authority regarding agricultural practices. Given there is no current regulation of GMO operations on the state level, the practical effect of these state bills would be to insulate the agro-chemical corporations from any oversight whatsoever.

Proposed Council Rule Change (M. Wille): Also scheduled on Feb. 19 is a proposed rule change that would allow the County Council to voice its votes in the Hawaiian language.

Support for Increasing the Counties’ Share of TAT: One important tax issue addressed by the council at its Feb. 5 County Council meeting was a resolution supporting state legislation to end the current cap on the portion of the Transient Accommodation Tax (TAT) revenues received by the counties. This tax is collected on hotel and short-term rentals as well as on rental cars. The purpose of this tax is to provide the financial resources to cover services supporting tourism. Originally the counties, which provide the lion’s share of these core services, received 95 percent of these tax revenues and the State received only 5 percent to cover administrative costs. Since then state legislators have appropriated a higher and higher percentage of the counties’ TAT revenues. During the economic downturn of several years ago, state legislators also placed a maximum cap on the TAT revenues receivable by the counties. At that time, our state legislators promised this cap on the amount received by the Counties would be removed once the economy improved. Yet even though the economy has improved, many state legislators are reluctant to support removal of the cap. I believe we should fight for return of our TAT revenues and resist efforts to instead be forced to impose higher real property taxes or seek authority to impose a County General Excise Taxes as is now being suggested.

Real Property Tax Program Review: The Council’s Real Property Tax Task Force is also busy addressing tax issues, and is next scheduled to meet on March 20. The public welcome to attend. The task force includes Councilmember Dennis “Fresh” Onishi and myself, as well as three public members. We are about to start addressing issues relating to agriculturally zoned properties.

For more information about County Council legislation or to receive my newsletter, contact my office at 887-2043, or by email at mwille@co.hawaii.hi.us.