LIHUE — Fiscal responsibility framed the Kauai County Council’s Wednesday decision to reject placing a charter amendment on the November ballot that would have allocated 3 percent of real property tax revenues to affordable housing.
But, it was also the impetus for the resolution introduced by Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura.
The motion to approve the resolution that would have let voters decide the amendment’s fate failed by a 6-1 vote, with Yukimura the sole “aye” on the council.
She compared the situation to running a household and taking money out of a paycheck at the beginning of the month to set aside for high priorities before the money is chopped up for expenses and spent on other things.
“Be fiscally responsible and put aside monies at the front for what should be a priority,” she said.
The proposal would have raised an estimated $4.3 million per year over 10 years. The money would have been used for development and preservation of affordable housing, including land and building purchases, property entitlements, planning, design, construction and financing.
The problem with the resolution for the rest of the council was a charter amendment would limit flexibility for those funds should they be needed for something else, and that the county’s housing agency doesn’t have a direct plan for the money, yet.
Everyone on the council agreed money should be made available for affordable housing — the debate was about how to do it.
Councilmember Ross Kagawa pointed out a charter-mandated 3 percent allocation from real property taxes could have the potential to increase those taxes or decrease services, depending upon what happens in the future.
“Charter amendment doesn’t do deliverables (and) everything is unpredictable,” Kagawa said. “It’s not disclosing that we may have to increase property tax or get less services.”
Councilman Arthur Brun agreed.
“I don’t think this is the right way to go now, to tie everyone’s hands for $4 million,” he said.
Councilmembers pointed out a way the administration could increase revenues for needed affordable housing projects.
The housing agency currently has growth of the housing fund included in its short range plan for FY2019, looking at 1 percent of real property taxes to grow the fund.
“We realize the housing fund needs to grow and this has a similar intent through a different mechanism,” said Kauai County Housing Director Kanani Fu.
Public testimony on the matter was a mixed bag, with some sitting on the fence.
“I’m not sure if this is the right method, but if you don’t have anything better, go for it,” said Jim Edmonds. “I would suggest you have a plan for how it’s used.”
Yukimura proposed the amendment go to the voters in November’s general election.
Bridget Hammerquist and Eileen Kechloian both pointed out the need to have money set aside for emergencies and that the electorate should be able to decide.
“Let the people vote, it makes them feel a part of it,” Kechloian said.
Councilman Arryl Kaneshiro questioned the public’s understanding of the issue, though, pointing out there was very little public participation in the budget process.
“You think the public knows the budget well enough to know the ramifications of this,” he asked. “Because the other side is our responsibility, finding that money and knowing the ramifications of tying our hands.”
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.