Council hopefuls air views at forum
Some find proposed tax reform package controversial
by Nathan Eagle – THE GARDEN ISLAND
Eighteen of the 22 candidates vying for the seven open seats on the Kaua‘i County Council this fall answered questions on tax reform, upcoming challenges and diversifying the island’s economy to support businesses at a political forum yesterday morning at JJ’s Broiler in Nawiliwili.
Roughly 50 residents attended the first of three planned Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce events this election season.
The council candidates generally agreed on solid waste, aging infrastructure and affordable housing as being key problems the county must solve. They differed more on a bill to reform the property tax system that the late-Mayor Bryan Baptiste’s administration submitted to the council in May.
Mayor Bill “Kaipo” Asing said the proposed legislation falls short of its goal and would hit businesses hard.
The current system taxes a fair amount and the county should work to stabilize itself during this economic downturn, he said.
Asing, who has served on the council for 24 years and is seeking another term, said he has talked to the finance director about amending the bill to lessen the impact on businesses.
Council candidate Ron Agor, who sits on the state land board, said the revenue neutral bill is “OK.”
It would shift the tax burden from families to businesses, he said, but the rate of increase would not be at a level that causes businesses to fold.
The tax proposal would not hurt businesses or the visitor industry “as much as everyone says,” candidate Bob Bartolo said.
The key, he said, is electing a council that works together.
Candidate Daryl Kaneshiro, who filled the empty council seat created when Asing resigned to serve as mayor until Dec. 1, said the proposed system would on average cut taxes on businesses by 12 percent.
Councilman Ron Kouchi, who is seeking another term, agreed. He said timeshares would be valued as condos and vacation rentals operating like resorts would be classified in that category.
The candidates were mostly supportive of keeping the 2 percent annual limit on tax increases for properties owned and occupied by residents, which the proposed bill would repeal.
Kouchi said if the cap stays and market values decline 30 percent over the next three years as projected, the shortfall would be balanced on the back of those falling under the other tax-rate categories instead of evenly spreading the burden.
Candidates Bruce Pleas and Scott Mijares said residents and business owners need the security and predictability that the 2 percent cap offers.
Candidates KipuKai “Leslie” Kuali‘i and George Thronas Jr. said the system must provide some type of tax break or incentives for businesses.
The candidates had several ideas on ways to diversify Kaua‘i’s economy to support businesses.
Bob Bartolo said he would work to attract high tech businesses and provide housing for workers on legitimate farms.
Bob Cariffe said he would get government out of residents’ lives a little bit more.
Several candidates — including Dickie Chang, Daryl Kaneshiro and Derek Kawakami — said they would ensure the tourism industry remains healthy in Kaua‘i’s economy.
Councilmember Jay Furfaro, who is seeking another term, said he would work to foster the health and wellness industry.
He and Kaneshiro said they would look to uncork the water department to enhance the agriculture industry too.
Candidate John Hoff said he would bring a recycling facility to the island that would transform plastics to crude oil.
Kuali‘i and Lani Kawahara, among other candidates, said they would support Kaua‘i Made products.
“We need to become self-sustainable,” Pleas said. “I just hope that we look forward.”
Similarly, candidates Ken Taylor, Linda Pasadava, Kouchi, Thronas and Mijares said they back renewable energy, locally grown food and other businesses that utilize Kaua‘i’s resources.
“We have to stop the leakage on this island,” Taylor said, noting the imminent end to cheap oil. “Keep the money here.”
The county must address high gas prices before it can effectively tackle any other problems, candidate Christobel Kealoha said.
“Everything increases because of gas,” she said.
A handful of candidates, including Kaneshiro and Chang, said bringing back the Hawaii Superferry’s inter-island service between O‘ahu and Kaua‘i would help local businesses.
When asked to give a synopsis of the current problems facing the county in upcoming years, Agor said Kaua‘i needs to properly plan for a sustainable population.
“We’ve got to come to grips with the fact that we’re going to have an inevitable growth on Kaua‘i,” he said.
Asing, along with most of the candidates, identified solid waste as the biggest problem for the county.
“If we don’t handle that … we’re going to be in a major fix,” he said.
Bartolo said he supported a clean waste-to-energy facility, along with renewable energy plants such as wind that have been hung up due to a lack of political will.
Furfaro said a materials recovery facility — the design money has already been set aside — needs to be developed parallel to a new landfill.
Kawakami called it a “perfect storm” of problems facing the county, but said they will be overcome.
Everyone wants to solve solid waste and infrastructure woes, Kouchi said, but the real question is how will the county pay for it. He said he offers proven leadership, having helped form in the past such government-business partnerships as the Kaua‘i Planning and Action Alliance and the Kaua‘i Economic Development Board.
The primary election is Sept. 20. The top 14 council candidates will appear on the ballot at the general election on Nov. 4.
The forum yesterday was free to chamber members and $17 for non-members.
The chamber will host another forum for council candidates at 8 a.m., Oct. 14, at JJ’s Broiler and a mayoral debate at 6:30 p.m., Sept. 2, at Kaua‘i Community College Performing Arts Center.
For more information, call the chamber office at 245-7363.
• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or email@example.com