County OK with criticism, but please be accurate

Through his frequent commentaries, Walter Lewis focuses continued attention on property taxes and other fiscal matters of the county. While we appreciate that sharing diverse opinions — and even critical ones — is useful for the general public, Mr. Lewis’ October 10, 2014 guest opinion includes numerous factual inaccuracies for which clarification is warranted.

Fact: The taxes collected from all 12,769 properties with home use exemptions (i.e., those subject to tax cap) was $15,327,037 in 2013, of which $11,061,069 was from the Homestead tax class (10,981 properties) and $4,265,968 was from owner-occupants in all other tax classes (1,788 properties). Mr. Lewis cites a total of $10 million, an understatement of 53 percent of tax revenue from those properties that had capped taxes.

Fact: The analysis for the impact of removing the tax cap and replacing it with higher exemptions was done using 2013 assessment data, and the projected results were a net increase $496,098 based on a total base of 12,340 owner-occupant properties. Mr. Lewis erroneously cites the “estimate that the revenue gain from its repeal would be $1.2 million.”

Fact: The actual net increase in property taxes for owner-occupied properties in 2014 was $1,236,506. Mr. Lewis claims this is due to inaccurate estimates. This is not true. The net increase is due to several changes including: 429 more properties now included as owner-occupied; higher tax rates established for 1,788 owner-occupied properties outside the Homestead class; increased assessments (up 8.7 percent); and changing property characteristics between years.

Mr. Lewis states that “The restoration (of the cap) was supported by all public testimony with no private party opposing it.” That is flat out not true. There were several members of the public who testified in favor of not restoring the tax cap. It is also very misleading to think that those who were at the County Council to testify in favor of the tax cap’s return were a representative sample of the entire owner-occupant tax base. Few, in any, of the 5,912 taxpayers that got lower taxes felt compelled to testify.

Finally, Mr. Lewis’ statement that “The meeting displayed an alarming lack of understanding by some councilmembers and the undue and unwarranted influence that the administration through its finance department had on decision making by the council” is an unfair attack on councilmembers and members of the administration who have extensive knowledge of the system but simply hold different opinions. Creating a more fair and equitable tax structure is never an easy task, but it is a necessary task if we are to move toward a sustainable budget in the future.

It is our hope that, in the future, the facts will be more closely vetted in Mr. Lewis’ writings. While we welcome feedback and respectful criticism, we also feel that criticism should be based on fact and not fiction.

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Steven A. Hunt is finance director of the County of Kauai.

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