Redefining ‘agricultural use’

LIHUE — A Kauai lawmaker introduced a bill Wednesday which seeks to establish “agronomics” as a new and separate real property tax class and exclude lands used primarily for crop research or parent seed production from the county’s definition of “agricultural use.”

The agronomics rate classification would include parcels that are “used for no other purpose than science, research and development of crops” and which “do not directly gain monetary profit from the ultimate consumer,” according to the bill.

The proposed measure was introduced by Kauai County Councilman Tim Bynum. He said he believes the county code was written with the intention of giving tax breaks to those growing crops, of any type, to be sold — not for research use alone.

“People on Kauai don’t know that virtually all of the corn you see growing here is destroyed,” he said, referring to the operations of seed companies Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer, BASF and Dow. “It’s not being sold.”

Bynum added that the bill will begin a discussion about how land on Kauai is being used and whether the community feels that use is consistent with local goals and values. Right now, he said, Kauai is not moving toward food sustainability, but in the opposite direction.

The measure passed first reading Wednesday by a 4-2-1 vote, with no public testimony or discussion by the council. Council members Mel Rapozo and Ross Kagawa voted against the proposal, while Council Chair Jay Furfaro cast a silent vote. 

Draft Bill 2546, as it has been designated, would further amend the county definition of “agricultural use” by removing owners who intend to obtain monetary profit from horticulture and ad those lands used for the purpose of raising and cultivating trees.

“The term ‘agricultural use’ shall not mean uses primarily as yard space, landscaped open areas, botanical gardens, the raising of livestock or fruit trees primarily for home use, or the research and development of crops or parent seed production that do not directly gain monetary profit from the ultimate consumer,” reads the amended language of the proposed bill.

Additionally, the bill would require the county Director of Finance to submit annual reports involving all agricultural dedicated properties to the mayor and county council. The reports would include the name of the landowner, Tax Map Key of dedicated area, period of dedication, size of dedicated area, description of the agricultural use and taxes resulting from the dedication compared with their market value. 

Attempts Wednesday to contact representatives of Kauai’s four seed companies were not successful. 

Bynum’s goal is to have the measure in effect for fiscal year 2015-16, which means the deadline for passing the proposed bill would be July 1. 

A public hearing is scheduled for June 10 in front of the council’s Finance and Economic Development Committee.

• Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com.

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