Steering toward solutions

LIHUE — Depending on what roads are being fixed, Krystal Struhar wouldn’t mind paying extra taxes.

“If the money is going to main roads, like the Tree Tunnel, I’d be OK with paying more,” she said. “But if it’s a minor road, I don’t want my tax dollars to go toward it.”

Donovan Riopta agreed.

“The Tree Tunnel is the main way in and out of the Southside, so I wouldn’t mind paying for that.”

The Kauai County Council previously voted 4-3 against increasing the General Excise Tax by a quarter a percent to raise $100 million for backlogged road repairs over 10 years.

While the bill is dead, there are still road repair projects that need to be completed — and no funds to pay for them.

Finding a balance between fixing roads and increasing taxes is tricky, said Riopta.

“The cost of living is already expensive here, so taxing us isn’t going to help our way of life,” the Hanamaulu man said.

Following the denial of the GET hike in May, council members pursued proposals for new measures to generate the money needed to address the roads.

One was a resolution that proposed a County Roads Resurfacing and Reconstruction Backlog Fund, which would require that 1 percent of the annual real property tax and 6 percent of the annual transient accommodation tax, or TAT, go into the fund annually, generating about $2 million.

The resolution introduced by Councilman KipuKai Kuali‘i was written as a charter amendment. It would have given the people a chance to vote on how to pay for the projects. The measure was denied 4-3 in July.

Councilman Gary Hooser said increasing taxes on tourism-focused companies, like rental car businesses, could generate enough revenue to address the road repair woes.

But Hooser said he was told the county doesn’t have the legal authority to tax rental car companies, so the council must turn to other options.

“There is a direct nexus between rental cars and traffic and roads,” he said.

Councilman Mason Chock agreed.

“Since the GET was not passed, I have been looking into the taxing and fees oversight that the county has for rental cars,” he said.

Chock said he is looking at ways to increase tolls and parking fees.

It’s a measure Struhar, also from Hanamaulu, supports.

“We do get a lot of tourists,” she said.

Those options will be discussed during the Budget and Finance Committee meeting Wednesday. Ken Shimonishi, finance director, and Steven Hunt, real property tax manager, will address the committee on ways to use transient-generating revenues to address repair and maintenance.

Leadership is the key to funding road repairs, said Councilman Ross Kagawa.

“My hope is that the administration will change their focus by attacking road repaving and bridge repairs as their first and foremost priority when it comes to county roads and bridges, and perform these road beautification projects later on in the future when the county can afford to do it,” he said.

Bike paths, walking paths, curbs and planters along Rice, Hardy and Eiwa streets are projects that could have been done once infrastructure is fixed, Kagawa said.

He believes the $100 million was created by continuous neglect on the part of previous administrative officials and council members.

“I think a great start would be the administration finding some new leadership of our Public Works Department that would actually start focusing on paving some of (this) backlog,” he said. “In order to get positive results with attacking such a huge problem like this, any council would need to provide additional funding to a “competent team” led by the administration.”

Riopta said there should be a vetting process when it comes to picking road repair projects.

The county shouldn’t throw out a press release, telling people about a project when it’s already been decided, Riopta said.

“It needs to be transparent to us, what roads will be fixed with our money,” he said.

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