Editorial for Wednesday — October 08, 2003

• Property tax reform

Property tax reform

On a day when California voters chose to back political reform in an attempt to cut state taxes among other issues, a group of Kaua‘i voters launched a petition campaign aimed at rolling back county property taxes for Kaua‘i residents who own and live in their homes.

The move comes as the budget for the County of Kaua‘i is on the way to doubling in less than 10 years, and property values are going through the ceiling as wealthy owners from off island are buying each month dozens of Kaua‘i homes being sold at premium prices.

Elderly local residents who have lived in their homes for decades are being squeezed by escalating property taxes that reflect the value of homes being bought near their homes at prices that reflect a red hot real estate market.

Some are coping with the rising property tax rates by turning rooms or side buildings into vacation rentals, in places changing the complexion of neighborhoods where once no visitors were housed. In other cases, some owners are selling out to the newcomers and leaving the Island, taking the bonanza sale cash and moving to the Mainland, bringing yet more change to the make-up of the Island.

County officials have been working on plans to help bring relief to homeowners, but the Ohana Kauai group is saying they aren’t offering home owners enough in the way of relief.

The County of Kaua‘i is facing growing costs, with new buildings housing the police and Civil Defense departments and other costs that weren’t there five or ten years ago.

However, with the boost in the overall value of property on Kaua‘i they are seeing an increase in property tax revenue that’s reflecting the new upswing in home values. Pay and benefits for HGEA member who work for the county is also on the way up, lead by the police officers who are benefiting by statewide raises.

Tighter controls on government spending need to be carefully looked at. The Ohana Kauai group figures that about $2 – 3 million, or about four percent, of the county’s budget would be affected by the cuts.

Finding areas to cut to make up for this loss may be difficult. If the charter amendment is passed – it needs signatures of 2000 registered voters on Kaua‘i to be on the ballot – a year from November the county will be mandated to make cuts, or increase taxes in other areas, possibly of vacation rentals or non resident-owned homes.

With, or without, popular approval for the proposed charter amendment, county property tax rates is a hot issue that isn’t going to go away. At the least, the pressure from the Ohana Kauai group in seeking public support for their proposed charter amendment is sure to put political pressure on Mayor Bryan Baptiste and the County Council to take stronger and faster action on property tax reform for those local residents who own and live in their own homes.

This issue is a reflection of the rapidly growing cost of living on Kaua‘i, a cost that affects both the people and the local government of Kaua‘i. While it appears impossible to contain the growing cost of living due to rising property values without another major hurricane or other natural disaster, more action needs to be taken on this issue by our local officials beyond what they have now provided.


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