Baptiste aims to revamp county property tax system

A planned overhaul of the county’s real property tax system will allow long-time residents to keep family property in the family, but also limit what county government is able to do for the constituents it serves, said Mayor Bryan Baptiste during a legislative meeting held yesterday in Honolulu.

Baptiste discussed his fiscal and legislative priorities before the state House Finance Committee yesterday, saying he’d like help from the state to finance upgrades to county sewer systems, and a state-county partnership to come up with nearly $900,000 for a new, rubberized track at Vidinha Stadium in Lihu’e.

In a prepared statement containing the text of his talk before the committee, Baptiste said continuing his campaign theme of partnerships, he said that as individuals the task before them is overwhelming. But, “together, the possibilities are endless.”

“I would like to extend my hand in partnership, together, to do great things; to erase the lines of jurisdictional divide, and focus on one simple truth: how we can best serve each man, woman and child of our state,” he said.

“Portions of our population are having a difficult time keeping land that has been in their families for decades, and in some cases, for centuries,” he said of the proposed revamp of the county real property tax system that currently generates nearly half of all county revenues.

“Does county government have the right to raise property taxes and, in the process, feed into the cycle of loss? I believe not,” he said.

“As we seek efficiencies of operation, and raise the level of accountability to the people we serve, we must step out of the box to revamp our real property tax system. That is the process we are presently engaged in on Kaua’i.

“But doing so imposes fiscal restraints on what we can and cannot do as county government. More importantly, it forces us to focus intently on doing our jobs even more efficiently and effectively,” said Baptiste.

The county’s 2003 legislative package is not yet finalized, but Baptiste asked the House Finance Committee to share the costs of two county items he sees as key.

First, the county’s sewer system, neglected for years, desperately needs upgrades in order to meet federal standards, he said. The relatively small number of residents connected to county sewer systems means that the customer base cannot be made to pay totally for the necessary upgrades, he said.

“We are now at a critical point of facilities enhancement that must be done in order to maintain federal standards,” he said.

“The work required is extensive and costly, and cannot be shouldered by Kaua’i’s relatively small sewer-customer base. Our legislative package includes a proposal for sharing the cost of these upgrades with the state,” Baptiste said.

“Your partnership will be essential in this effort to bring our sewer infrastructure up to par.”

Finally, he asked for state funding help for a new, rubberized track for Vidinha Stadium, estimated to cost around $860,000.

“We ask for your support in a long-overdue upgrade of facilities for our young athletes. The County of Kauai owns and maintains many of the facilities utilized by the island’s three (public) high schools,” Baptiste said.

“However, we have been unable to afford the upgrades necessary to insure that our athletes have comparable opportunities to their peers around the state. Kaua’i youngsters often enter statewide competitions at a huge disadvantage,” Baptiste continued.

“This is an extremely unfortunate situation that must be addressed, and should be addressed by the state’s school system. My number-one priority in this area is for the state to provide funding for the rubberized track at our central facility.”

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