Editorials for Saturday — September 27, 2003

• Property taxes

• Poverty in Hawai‘i

Property taxes

For better or worse the value of homes on Kaua‘i is high and getting higher. Across the Island home sale prices are escalating.

While this trend is helping to keep real estate sales people happy, it means that local residents who own and live in their own home are facing higher and higher property taxes as nearby homes are selling for possibly hundreds of thousands dollars more than what the homeowners paid in the past for their homes. The homeowners household income isn’t anywhere near keeping up with the value of their homes, causing a big gap between what they can afford to pay in county property tax and what the market value of the home is.

To provide tax relief the Kaua‘i County Council has approved a property tax relief bill that allows longtime homeowners to be granted exemptions to some of the impact of the rising property taxes.

As long as they don’t sell their homes, and dedicate their properties for “permanent home use,” homeowners will be eligible.

A citizens group is also coming up with a county property tax relief plan, which may come before the council in the near future.

The council’s plan is overdue, but not too late to save the homes of elderly homeowners who are facing tax bills some just can’t pay. While selling there homes is an option, where do you go once you sell? Probably not to another house on Kaua‘i.

As a society it is important that our traditional neighborhoods and towns are kept intact as tracts of vacant land are being turned into high-priced home sites across the Island, creating new communities and income mixes in districts from the Westside on through to the North Shore.

While we face the realities of the 21st century on Kaua‘i, the roots of the past for our ‘ohana need to be preserved if the Island’s spirit of aloha is to live on into the future.

Poverty in Hawai‘i

Though Kaua‘i is probably in better shape than the other counties of Hawai‘i, the truth is that poverty is still with us, and that the amount of money workers are taking home is a bit less than in the past.

Hawai‘i is one of only five states that saw a rise in poverty along with a decrease in the size of the average paycheck.

Poverty on Kaua‘i is visible on our beaches, under the blue tarp tents of the homeless. In the common use of state-funded transaction cards to buy food. In the struggle of many who are working two and three jobs to make a living for themselves and their families.

New numbers from the U.S. Census shows that about one person in 10 in Hawai‘i lives in poverty.

On Kaua‘i we are bucking this trend through our economy, which First Hawaiian Bank-sponsored economist told the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce last week called a strong one. High tech development, a steady stream of well-heeled visitors, a booming real estate and construction industry, and a growing number of service industry jobs, are all helping the economy to keep moving up in a burst that is leaving our memories of the post-Hurricane ‘Iniki economic depression well behind.

How long our prosperity continues across all economic levels of our island community remains to be seen. The high cost of housing may put a damper on the economy if a downturn shows up in the years ahead. Combining the high cost of housing with the high cost of groceries and other staples is a formula for a gradual gutting of our middle class, on top of causing further hardships for our working poor.

The high cost of living on an island like Kaua‘i takes creativity and determination for those without a trust fund or other outside income coming in from off island, and gives a taste of poverty to many who have never experienced it in their homes in other states. This high cost of paradise is a reality that many adapt to as they make their way on Kaua‘i. Hopefully the forces that may drive more into poverty will be withstood by most.


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