Plan on how to spend beach access fund before council

The Kaua‘i County Council is considering a bill that would administer the use of a special fund to protect public access, open space and natural resources.

The measure is intended to protect the public’s right to access such areas as new landowners have closed off access to mountain and ocean areas, citing liability and trespassing concerns.

During a meeting at the historic County Building Thursday, the council was poised to schedule a public hearing on Aug. 13 for the proposed measure. The measure is then expected to be sent to the council’s planning committee for further review before possible action by the full council.

The proposed legislation is tied to a charter amendment that was approved by voters in 2002 to help protect public access. The legislation must be approved by the council and Mayor Bryan Baptiste before the fund can be used.

The approved measure annually earmarks 1/2 of 1 percent of the certified property tax revenues to establish public access, open space and a “natural resources” preservation fund.

County officials have reported that nearly $240,000 has been generated for the special fund and that the monies were put in this year’s county budget for use.

The proposed legislation would establish procedures and priorities for the use of the funds.

The measure calls for public input in helping to determine which public accesses need to be protected.

In other matters, the council was to defer action on a proposal by councilmembers Jay Furfaro and Daryl Kaneshiro to allow homeowners to dedicate their properties for permanent home use.

The council was to defer further action on the proposal at the request of Mayor Bryan Baptiste’s administration, apparently because county officials wanted more time to study the proposed measure.

If the bill became law, the legislation would establish a program that would be in effect for two years and would end in 2006.

The bill provides that property tax bills for dedicated properties not exceed 6 percent a year, except in cases where there are improvements to the property or when the use of the property changes.

The proposal is intended to provide immediate relief to homeowners while a county task force reviews the current property tax structure for possible changes.

The council, including former Kaua‘i County Council chairman Ron Kouchi, and Baptiste have sought the tax reform after island property owners complained that repeat land sales in recent years have driven up property tax bills, and have threatened to force them off their lands.

In other maters, county finance director Michael Tresler submitted a report that the county will not be able to collect about $126,000 in delinquent sewer bills.

Had those funds been collected, they could have been used to help maintain the sewer system, county officials said.

Tresler said the delinquent bills were generated before he took his job, but vowed to go after current delinquent accounts.

Tresler’s report showed the county will not be able to collect $6,278,35 from three parties that went bankrupt as of February.

Because of a 6-year statute of limitation established by state law, the county also will not be able to collect $100,072.29 from companies and residents with individual delinquent accounts that are more or equal to $1,000, Tresler said.

Also because of the six-year limit, the county also will not be able to collect another $19,322.39 from other parties with individual delinquent accounts of less than $1,000, Tresler said.

The council must give its approval before county officials can officially halt efforts to collect in the bankruptcy cases and those in which people or companies have individual delinquent accounts that are $1,000 or greater, Tresler said.

Tresler said there are other delinquent accounts, and that his staff is aggressively pursuing collections, contacting people and sending out notices.

In extreme cases, county officials could slap a lien on properties of people who don’t pay their sewer bills, Tresler said.

Senior citizens from Lihu‘e have complained that they shouldn’t pay their sewer bills if others haven’t.

Tresler said he sympathizes with the senior citizens with the complaints, but noted a sewer tax credit is in place to help those who are connected to the county’s sewer system.

The system is located in only certain areas on the island, including Lihu‘e and in parts of west Kaua‘i and in Kapa‘a town.

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