Agronomics tax bill on tap Wednesday

LIHUE — The Kauai County Council will revisit a bill on Wednesday aimed at taxing the island’s crop research land separate from other agricultural land.

Introduced by Councilman Tim Bynum, Bill 2456 would 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.”

Bynum said the issue is about making taxes fair and equitable for everyone.

“This bill is just part of the dialogue and it’s an important one for us to have,” he said.

The proposal was quick to draw fire from large agricultural companies and landowners, which say it unfairly targets a specific subset of local ag.

In June, the council’s Finance and Economic Development Committee voted 3-1 to defer the measure. That committee will take up the issue again Wednesday. It will likely recommend approving or denying the proposed bill to the full County Council.

“I want to get this bill right,” Bynum said Monday. “There were good questions asked at the first meeting, and we need to follow up with those questions.”

Bynum said during the June meeting that his proposal is about addressing the question of whether crop research, which does not produce a product that is sold to consumers, either wholesale or retail, should be eligible for tax incentives. The practices of seed companies on Kauai, he said, are “far different” than the agricultural production practices the county has traditionally chosen to support.

The Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, a trade group representing the agricultural seed industry in Hawaii, however, says it would send a negative signal to any industry that relies on innovation to create jobs and contribute to the local economy.

“Business sectors should not be targeted for discriminatory treatment,” HCIA wrote in testimony.

If passed, 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.”

Bill 2546 would also 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.

Wednesday’s meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. in the Historic County Building in Lihue.

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