Ohana Kauai group launches property tax rollback petition drive

An ad hoc Kaua‘i voters organization Tuesday launched an islandwide petition campaign aimed at rolling back and capping county property taxes for many local residents through a charter amendment vote.

The charter amendment would “roll back property taxes to the 1998-99 amount,” Walter Lewis, a proponent of the petition, told The Garden Island Tuesday. “(It would) put a cap on increases of whichever were lesser, two percent per year, or the annual Social Security adjustment. This covers only residents who own their own home and live in it.”

The Ohana Kauai group – led by Lewis and other community activists including Ming Fang, John Hoff, Walter Lewis, Glenn Mickens, Monroe Richman and Gordon Smith – is attempting to collect 2,000 signatures of registered voters. If successful, Kaua‘i County voters would decide on passing the charter amendment in the general election of November 2004.

Lewis said the group has volunteers lined up “in every corner of the island” who will begin seeking signatures of registered voters on the group’s petition. He said volunteers will be collecting signatures in front of grocery stores, from neighbors and elsewhere.

The group’s deadline is in May 2004. By then they must turn in petitions to have the signatures verified by officials in the County Clerk’s office.

Property taxes are a major source of income for the Kaua‘i County government.

There was no response Tuesday to requests for comments on the issue from Mayor Bryan Baptiste and from members of the County Council.

Earlier this year Baptiste and the council formed a real property tax task force have offered some relief.

Former council chair Ron Kouchi called for a rollback of property assessments for two years and more during the administration of former Mayor Maryanne Kusaka, as a way to help homeowners, including senior citizens, remain on their properties.

Lewis said the Ohana Kauai members didn’t think the County Council is now ready to proposed similar legislation.

“We don’t think the council would go for this, this is like Proposition 13 in California,” he said.

The landmark California proposition capped property taxes and reflected a voter rebellion against increases in government spending.

Lewis said if a charter amendment initiated by Kaua‘i residents is passed the County Council will be unable to remove it without another Charter Amendment vote.

“Only the voters can remove it, the council can’t,” he said.

“The council is looking for increasing their budget every year,” Lewis said. “It’s gone from $65 million in 1998 to $98 million in 2003.”

He said if this growth in spending continues, the Kaua‘i County budget will be double what it was in 1998 by 2006.

“They’re not going to be happy about what we are proposing as a council,” Lewis said, “but I think they’d be happy about it as individuals.”

Lewis said the group believes Mayor Bryan Baptiste would disapprove of their proposed charter amendment.

“Mayor Baptiste has about the same attitude as the council,” he said. “It’s his budget they are looking it, it’s been increased significantly over the last five years.”

Lewis said if the property tax rollback is eventually approved by Kaua‘i County voters the effect “won’t be devastating” to the county. He said the reduction in income to the county would be about $2-3 million per year, or about a third of what owner-occupied homes on Kaua‘i are paying into county coffers this year.

“We’re highly optimistic we’ll get the signatures well before” the deadline, Lewis said.

We’re concerned that government costs seem to be out of control, this is a way to tell government that people are concerned about how much revenue is collected from property taxes, and government’s “appetite for taxes to feed those budgets.”

TGI Editor Chris Cook can be reached at ccook@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 227).

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