County considers tax hike

LIHUE — At Wednesday’s county council committee meeting, members discussed the possibility of increasing the general excise tax by a half percent to provide essential funding for rebuilding infrastructure, repairing roads, reconstructing bridges and improving public transport.

Ken Shimonishi, director of finance for the Department of Finance, said “Estimates provided by the Department of Taxation are that a half percent increase is estimated to carry approximately $25 million (annually) to the county.”

“I think the emphasis will definitely be on our roads, bridges and that sort, and obviously have some set aside for transportation as well,” Shimonishi said. “We would prefer to have a more detailed plan provided during the committee meeting and public hearing.”

Although the council was against approving the general excise tax bill until further discussion, a public hearing on the matter will take place Nov. 15.

One alternative to increasing the tax is utilizing funds from other areas, but choosing where cuts could be made are challenging decisions, said councilmembers.

“I’m tired of banging my head and getting no results,” said councilman Ross Kagawa. “Infrastructure is still falling behind as we speak.”

If the tax increase gets approval, the surcharge would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

It wasn’t exactly evident how the money generated from the tax increase would be allocated for the multiple purposes over the 12-year period required to rebuild roads.

“We will address all of the roads, all of the bridges and include some component of transportation expansion and improvement,” Shimonishi said.

“(Fixing) the roads at last go-around was estimated at $126 million, which included all prevention measures as well as pre-construction overlay and all that,” Shimonishi added.

Council members also interviewed Marissa Sandblom for joining the board of the Charter Review Commission. She has served on numerous boards and is a key administrator for Grove Farm.

“Marissa Sandblom is competent and capable and a person for whom I have much respect and warm regard,” said speaker Felicia Cowden, representative for KKCR public affairs. “My deep concern is the conflict of interest in giving Grove Farm one more vote on the Charter Review Commission.”

“Chair Jan Tenbruggencate is also a paid advocate for the promotion of Grove Farm interests,” Cowden said. “Grove Farm has a strong, understandable track record for looking after their own best interests, which do not necessarily align with what is best for the county. The county needs to control Grove Farm rather than be controlled by it.”

The council also approved a package proposal of bills including providing tax credits for employees who hire elderly individuals as well as those with disabilities.

Other issues they plan to revisit at a later time include addressing shoreline setback laws and illegal vacation rentals in residential areas.

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