“Circuit Breaker Credit” program launched by Baptiste

A Kaua’i County Council committee and Mayor Bryan Baptiste’s administration announced yesterday they will work on media blitz to inform homeowners about the benefits of what they are calling the “Circuit Breaker Credit.”

The program, part of recent legislation that was passed, is intended to help property owners, including senior citizens, remain in their homes as property tax valuations have spiraled due to high-priced sales of neighboring properties.

Homeowners will be able to get information about the tax credit program and applications at the county’s nine neighborhood centers, at the county’s finance department in Lihu’e and as a download at www.kauaigov. com. Notices also may be posted on county buses.

The information was relayed during a meeting of the council committee of the whole at the historic County Building.

Former councilman and council chair Ron Kouchi introduced the legislation last year in response to significant increases in property sales due to real estate sales to mainland buyers over the past four years.

Although Baptiste signed the legislation into law last year, there exists much confusion over how the law works, hence the need for yesterday’s presentation, Council Chair Kaipo Asing said.

The law targets homeowners with property tax exemptions and limits the taxes in the homestead classes to a percentage of the adjusted gross income of the household.

The provision applies to a homeowner and a spouse who live in their home and qualify for a tax exemption. The law would be effective for only a year.

But the credit provided under the law will not apply if taxes on the property are delinquent.

In explaining how the credit program works, Asing used as an example a household that paid $3,615 in property taxes last year.

If a 3 percent formula were applied, as stipulated in the law, to the family’s adjusted cross income of $130,000, the family would pay just $3,900 in property taxes.

Because that amount is more than what the family paid the previous tax year, they would not qualify for the credit program, Asing said.

If the same family had an adjusted gross income of $140,000, the family would pay $3,600 in property taxes and would qualify for the program, because that amount is below the $3,615 in taxes they paid another year, Asing said.

Asing also cited a case where a owner saw his property taxes jumped from $6,053 in 2000 to $17,107 in 2002, an increase of more than 180 percent.

The assessment of the property rose from about $1 million in 2000 to $3.1 million in 2002, Asing said.

If the property owner qualifies for the credit program, the owner will see benefits, but will still have to pay property taxes, said Councilman Daryl Kaneshiro.

Disturbing the information on the program throughout the island and as quickly as possible were foremost on the minds of council members.

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura asked whether there will be people at the neighborhood centers who will provide guidance.

County finance director Michael Tresler said county employees were trained on Jan. 21 and Jan. 22 to help people at the centers.

Tresler added that the neighborhood centers will only be a place for people to pick up applications, and that applicants will be asked to mail their forms to the County Finance Department or to submit them in person to the department in Lihu’e.

Yukimura suggested that application forms be placed at public libraries for pickup. Tresler said “it is an idea” but felt the use of neighborhood centers and people’s access to a Web site on the credit program offer optimum ways to get the information out to the public.

Councilman Jimmy Tokioka said he would like to see notices put on county buses or at the entry of the finance department in Lihu’e. Tresler said they were suggestions that could have merit.

Councilman Mel Rapozo and other council members said Ho’ike’s immediate broadcast of yesterday’s meeting was the best way to get the information out.

But Ho’ike’s videotaping of yesterday’s meeting will not be seen until February because the meeting is not likely to have captioning for the hearing-impaired until then, Rapozo said.

Rapozo said the county is facing a tight deadline to inform the public about the tax credit program, as the application sign-up period runs from Feb. 1 to Feb. 28.

Councilmember Jay Furfaro asked whether any consideration was given to mailing out the notices.

Tresler said he and others working on the public relations campaign thought about putting notices in county water and sewer bills, “but we didn’t have the time to do those things.”

Tresler said and others were relying on “grass roots” efforts, primarily through the use of neighborhood centers, to get the word out.

It was a sentiment echoed by Asing, who said the nine neighborhood centers offered “wide coverage.”

Tresler and deputy finance director Eric Knutzen said Mayor Baptiste’s plan to educate the public about the program was tied to equal application of the law, informing the public, establishing contact points for the public to get information and securing information from people applying for the program.

Tresler said these were some of the key parts of the tax credit program:

– Residents filing applications need to provide the first two pages of their 2001 federal and state individual income tax returns.

– If a person didn’t file tax returns, he or she is required to have notarized affidavits.

– Applications should be filed with the county’s real property assessment division by 4:30 p.m. on Feb.28.

– Applications and information about the credit program will be available at all neighborhood centers staring Jan. 27.

– Applications will be processed from February to July, with qualified applicants to be notified by mail.

– Credit will be applied “evenly” to the August 2003 tax bill and the February 2004 tax bill.

– A team consisting of Bernard Carvalho, director of the County Offices of Community Assistance, Tresler, Knutzen, Vida Mossman and others from the County Tax Division developed the public relations program. Council members thanked the team and Baptiste’s administration for their work.

– Residents wanting information about the property taxes they paid the previous year can go online or call 241-6222.

Tresler also noted the county sent out a press release on Jan. 22 about the program, had available documents of the law offering the tax credit on Jan. 21 that included orientation guides and instructions and followed up the work with yesterday’s presentation.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net

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