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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 16, 2002

Big Island council delays tax-hike vote

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i — Plans to boost Big island property taxes to meet a budget shortfall now estimated at $7.6 million prompted 20 people to testify at a public meeting last night.

The reaction was mixed, with some opposing any rate increase and others saying a tax hike may be needed to avoid a cut in services.

The council, meanwhile, postponed a first reading and vote on the proposal to establish tax rates for 2002-2003.

That will now come at a special meeting May 28. The council ducked the vote after deciding more hearings on the rates should be held before it votes on what would be the county's first tax increase in more than 30 years.

The next hearing will be at 6 tonight at the Royal Kona resort in Kailua.

Bill Takaba, county finance director, said he was surprised by the mellow tone of the testimony, including those opposed to increases to satisfy the record $205.2 million operating budget.

Councilman Gary Safarik of Puna, who has not said how he will vote, said he believes that about 60 percent of voters oppose Mayor Harry Kim's proposed increases.

The rate increases would include nearly 25 percent for homeowners, from $4.35 to $5.55 per $1,000 of valuation. Eight other classes of land and buildings would rise by lesser amounts, averaging 60 cents per $1,000.

"I may not know what I will do until the final vote," said Safarik, who said he's aware that many of his Puna constituents feel they are not getting a fair shake on services.

"I do think we have to step back and decide what we should be doing," added the first-term Democrat.

Councilman Dominic Yagong of Hamakua, who is leaving the council after this term, opposes any tax increase. Two other council members have not said what they may do. Five others have indicated they will back Kim, some of them reluctantly, to avert layoffs.

"I was pleased no one seemed to be up in arms" said Safarik.

Don and Glenna Jacobs of Puna oppose the increase, including the new "minimum tax" legislation enacted last year to increase the levy on many parcels from $25 to at least $100.

"West Hawai'i, Ka'u and Puna have not had their fair share of tax dollars — ever," said Glenna Jacobs in a statement she issued prior to the hearing.

"I was surprised," said Takaba of the testimony yesterday. He said many agree with Kim that the tax rate increase is overdue to meet minimum police and fire service standards.

Takaba said he was not disturbed by the council's decision not to vote on the first reading of the tax rate, as had been scheduled yesterday. "They wanted to defer to the public first. I think that's OK."