Furfaro: keep reducing taxes

Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste’s proposed $131.5-mil-lion yearly budget is larger than he anticipated, and the bulk of the $9.3 million increase should be used to fund more services for the public’s benefit, Kaua’i County Councilman Jay Furfaro said last week.

At the same time, Furfaro, who heads the council’s Economic Development Committee, said the mayor should have proposed more property-tax-relief in the next fiscal year.

In the past, council members and Baptiste have approved legislation that has given significant tax breaks to longtime residents who own their homes and live in them.

Furfaro said he would like to see more help extended to prevent the displacement of such residents.

Baptiste was not immediately available for comment Thursday or Friday to respond to Furfaro’s comments, which were in the form of a letter to the mayor.

But Mary Daubert, county public information officer, said Gary Heu, Baptiste’s administrative assistant, will offer council members “the administration’s perspective on the proposed budget” at a public meeting in the historic County Building, second-floor council chambers, tomorrow at 10 a.m.

There, they will discuss the $131.5 million operating budget and a proposed $57 million capital-improvement budget for fiscal year 2006-07, which begins July 1.

In making comments in an e-mail to The Garden Island, Furfaro wrote that he was “intrigued to find that there was no substantial commentary on the further reduction of property taxes, especially for those who live in their homes and have home exemptions.”

Furfaro said members of a county property-tax task force made many recommendations, but none of them appear in the proposed budget.

One key proposal called for assessing higher tax rates for buildings than for land. Currently, land is assessed at a higher rate than the buildings, a situation that has driven up assessments and has driven some longtime residents off their land.

If the proposal is adopted, people who build larger homes will have to pay higher taxes for the structures.

Furfaro also said that an evaluation should be conducted on a law he and Councilman Daryl Kaneshiro pushed through that set a 2 percent cap on tax-bill increases year after year for property owners who live in their units and have no plans to sell them.

Furfaro indicated he supported giving additional property-tax breaks to owner-occupants who intend to continue living in their homes.

One of the recommendations called for using the Honolulu consumer price index, “which could be modified and reflected in the future tax cap,” Furfaro wrote. The cap was 1.8 percent.

The increase in the proposed operating budget is 7.6 percent higher than it should be, Furfaro said.

Although the increase is not overwhelming, the increase is “larger than expected, when in fact in your own narrative, newfound revenues represent almost $7. 5 million,” Furfaro wrote in his letter to Baptiste.

If Baptiste is serious about maintaining the “critical needs of the county,” county leaders should use such revenues for more services, Furfaro reasons.

The newfound revenues, Furfaro suggested, should be used for a “cost and revenue council” that he has suggested during past council meetings.

Furfaro said he has given testimony to members of the Kaua’i County Charter Commission on the need for such a body. The commission members are considering charter amendments for the Nov. 7 general-election ballot.

Revenue forecasting by members of a cost and revenue council will tell county leaders how much revenues are in county coffers, how much is projected to come in, and how to spend it more wisely, Furfaro said.

Leaders of state government already use such a system, depending on members of a Council on Revenues to project state revenues from taxes and other sources.

Furfaro also asked Baptiste to consider these suggestions:

  • Hire a land manager for the Kaua’i County Planning Department. The land manager would work with the county’s public access and open space commission members. The person will ensure that lands county officials receive meet “applicable standards of safety and land management,” Furfaro wrote. The person who is hired for the job would work with leaders of the county Department of Public Works on budgets to create infrastructure, and to give comments to members of the Kaua’i County Planning Commission on the county’s capital expenditures that are related to the “support and rationale of the acquisition” of property;
  • Faced with difficulties in controlling costs in the past year, the Kaua’i Police Department leaders should present a strategic plan to identify any additional money related “to the war on drugs that are not part of the day-to-day police department operations,” Furfaro continued. Perhaps a sub-ledger for payroll that specifically addresses the war on drugs could be implemented and tracked, he suggested;
  • The administration should support a stronger recruitment and advertising campaign to fill police department vacancies. About 30 such vacancies exist today, it has been reported at council meetings;
  • The county Finance Department leaders should initiate a staff-planning process that clearly interacts with the county’s Human Resource Department. The Finance Department officials should evaluate positions that have been vacant for more than six months, as well as hold individual department managers accountable for major cost overruns in their operations;
  • Members of primary boards such as the Kaua’i Police Commission and the Kaua’i Planning Commission should have regularly-scheduled legal support, at meetings and beyond, as should be the case for members of the Kaua’i County Council, which meets weekly. “This suggestion is to give us all consistent legal support, where one attorney can identify the continuity between planning issues, zoning, upward appraisals, and funding for these projects, and can interpret the law accordingly,” Furfaro wrote. In the past, certain county attorneys have been assigned as counsel to certain boards and commissions;
  • A study should be funded to provide county leaders opportunities to hire retired personnel. They could be one-time sugar-plantation equipment operators who could respond drainage problems, for instance. The Kaua’i Police Department’s auxiliary unit members also can become active to help support regular KPD officers during emergencies and crisis, like the recent flooding due to heavy and persistent rains;
  • Related to affordable housing, county leaders should move quickly once the budget is approved to acquire land and launch a prototype project for a co-op concept. “I do believe there are several pieces (of land) that are close to existing infrastructures, especially in the Lihu’e area,” he said. “I would also want to reflect on the county’s acquisition of state lands and bond opportunities that could initiate the construction portion through Kaua’i’s share of the conveyance tax, (which is the subject of legislation) which I plan to introduce at the start of the new year;”
  • Kaua’i Planning Department leaders should move at full speed toward establishing a vacation-rental ordinance. Residents have provided feedback at public hearings conducted by the vacation-rental task force, and “it is a critical part of zoning and permitting that can generate revenues while controlling the proliferation of illegal vacation rentals.”
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