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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 30, 2004

Mayor hints at tax hike

By Treena Shapiro and Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writers

Public transportation, road repairs, a new police station and a Leeward Coast emergency access road will be among the city's main initiatives during the coming year, but a property tax hike may be required to help pay for them, Mayor Jeremy Harris said yesterday in his State of the City address.

Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris assured residents of the Leeward Coast that the city will build an emergency road.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Harris said he will try to keep any tax rate increase to a minimum. Hotel, resort, commercial and industrial properties are likely candidates for an increase because they pay less in taxes than when he took office in 1994.

"I don't think it's fair for people the expect to pay less next year than they paid 10 years ago," the mayor said after the speech.

Harris did not know if residential property owners are likely to see an increase. City Council members said last night that they would oppose higher tax rates for homeowners.

"Any tax increase on residential I'm voting down," said Councilman Romy Cachola, 7th (Aliamanu, Airport, Kalihi).

Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, 5th (Makiki, Manoa, Kapahulu, Palolo), agreed. "If he wanted to raise property taxes, he should have increased it more last year. He can't keep doing this every year," she said.

Harris, whose term in office ends this year, unveiled few surprises during the 35-minute speech, which was carried live on KHON-TV and KGMB-TV at a cost of $6,000 to the city. But he announced that police had selected a site on 22nd Avenue at Fort Ruger, in the Diamond Head area, to build an East Honolulu police station that could begin operations by the end of the year.

A previous plan called for building the facility much farther east, in Hawai'i Kai.

Reaction to site choice

Mayor's pledges

In his final State of the City speech, Mayor Jeremy Harris said he will:

• Keep any tax increases "to a minimum."

• Build an East Honolulu police station on 22nd Avenue.

• Expand a curbside recycling program islandwide.

• Build an emergency access road on the Leeward Coast.

• Improve sidewalks and lighting on Kuhio Avenue in Waikiki.

• Build a clubhouse/swimming pool complex at Central O'ahu Regional Park.

• Begin the first phase of Bus Rapid Transit within weeks.

Councilman Charles Djou, 4th (Waikiki, Kaimuki, Hawai'i Kai), said: "I'm happy that we're finally getting the East Honolulu station built, disappointed that we're not going to do it in Hawai'i Kai."

Hawai'i Kai is so far away from any police station, Djou said, while Kaimuki and Palolo can be served by the main station on Beretania Street.

But Harris said Police Chief Lee Donohue picked the Fort Ruger site because it is in the heart of the police district, while Hawai'i Kai is on the far end. "That means he wouldn't have been able to provide the appropriate, timely service to the core of the district," Harris said.

Harris drew some of the loudest applause of the night when he announced that the city will build a bypass road on the Leeward Coast, which is periodically paralyzed by traffic accidents, breaks in water mains and other disruptions on Farrington Highway.

With the Mililani curbside recycling pilot program on its last month, Harris said the city will expand it islandwide. He also said the city will introduce 10 hybrid-electric buses to reduce pollution.

The recycling initiative was good news to Jeff Mikulina, director of the Sierra Club Hawai'i Chapter.

"I think that's the main issue that we're really excited about this upcoming year as well as moving forward with the bus rapid transit plan and other transit plans," he said.

Waikiki upgrades

In Waikiki, revitalization efforts will shift to Kuhio Avenue, where the city will install flagstone-paved sidewalks, lighting with a vintage look and hanging flower baskets — much like what have been put into place along Kalakaua Avenue, Harris said.

The promenade along the Ala Wai will be spruced up, he said, and the popular Sunset on the Beach and Brunch on the Beach events will continue in Waikiki.

Rick Egged, Waikiki Improvement Association president, congratulated the mayor, pointing out that the city's $50 million investment over the past five years in Waikiki has led to the private sector's spending about $500 million in the area, with plans to spend an additional $600 million over the next five years. "That just goes to show the economic vitality that can be sparked by this kind of partnership between the government and the private sector," Egged said.

The mayor said construction will begin next month on a long-planned tennis clubhouse and swimming pool complex in the Central O'ahu Regional Park. An orchid conservatory will be built at Foster Botanical Garden.

He pledged to build the first phase of a new Kapolei Parkway and to ask the City Council for $40 million to pay for road repairs.

Council Budget Chairwoman Kobayashi was pleased that Harris mentioned the emergency access road, which the council provided money for two years ago.

In his speech, the mayor also announced that city will begin building the first phase of the controversial Bus Rapid Transit system within weeks, linking Iwilei and downtown to Waikiki. He also said new transit centers will be built in Mililani and Wai'anae.

But Harris said that Honolulu must build a fixed-rail public transportation system soon and that he will seek taxing authority from the state to allow construction to begin without relying on federal money.

He conceded that the Legislature has repeatedly balked at such a tax plan but he vowed to pursue the issue.

'An uphill battle'

State Sen. Brian Taniguchi, D-10th (Manoa, McCully), chairman of the Finance Committee, said: "We have to take a look at it."

The city will still need to find support in the Legislature. "I think it's still an uphill battle. We need to kind of see what the commitment from the city is," Taniguchi said.

Harris said that the city will expand the capacity of the H-Power plant to generate more electricity from garbage and reduce the need for landfills, but that the City Council should select a new landfill site as soon as possible.

Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz, 2nd (Wahiawa, North Shore, 'Ahuimanu), agreed that more waste must be diverted from the landfill, but called H-Power outdated. "There's so many more technologies, we should be diversifying the waste stream into different technologies, not just one," he said.

The city and the University of Hawai'i are joining with other agencies to create a power park that will provide Kapolei Hale with electricity from a hydrogen generator and an array of photovoltaic panels. There also will be a charging station for electric vehicles and a hydrogen fueling station for vehicles powered by fuel cells.

Manoa Neighborhood Board member Clara Ching liked Harris' energy initiatives. The former researcher for the UH medical school said: "I think he's a very visionary leader — and what he has done with the sustainability issue, we are very proud of him and we thank him. Our city needs his input, and he has been able to carry on with his business."

Reach Treena Shapiro at tshapiro@honolululadvertiser.com or 525-8070. Reach Johnny Brannon at jbrannon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.