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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hawaii County council to consider land fund


By Erin Miller
West Hawaii Today

Should the Hawaii County open space land fund be guaranteed 1 percent or 2 percent of property tax revenues each year? Should a provision be made for some of the money to be used to maintain land the county buys with the fund? Should the land be guaranteed to be held in perpetuity?

Three council members pose those questions, in the form of alternative charter amendment proposals for the Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Fund the full council will consider Wednesday. The council meets starting at 9 a.m. at the Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort and Spa.

Ka'u Councilman Guy Enriques said he drafted his amendment to keep the charter commission's recommendation of placing a minimum of 1 percent of real property tax revenues in the fund, but wanted to add a provision to pay for maintenance of land the county buys. The provision sets aside 10 percent of the revenues each year.

"We have to become good stewards of the land," Enriques said. "It behooves us to be able to manage these lands appropriately."

He pointed to Kawa, in his district, where the county has purchased some property. People camp there, and the property is, in general, highly used. If the county owns the whole area, the amount of use may make maintenance by the county necessary, he said.

The Parks and Recreation Department's budget is already stretched thin, he added, so more park land to be cared for should come with more funding.

Hamakua Councilman Dominic Yagong viewed the issue differently. In his proposed alternative amendment, Yagong made clear that he does not think any money should be used for maintenance.

"What do you want to maintain," Yagong said. "Most of these properties are open. ... To add it on now, it takes away money that really should be for purchasing property."

He compared the situation with a developer who is asked to give the county property for a park, as a rezoning condition. In that case, the developer is not asked to also pay for park maintenance, rather, money comes from the Parks and Recreation budget, he said.

Yagong also included language to prevent the sale of any property acquired through the land fund.

"The community went through a very traumatic experience with regards to the Hamakua lands," Yagong said. "I want to make sure we have safeguards in place so no mayor will take the community through that situation."

Yagong and South Kona's Brenda Ford both proposed to set a minimum of 2 percent of property tax revenue to be set aside each year. The county must honor the will of the voters who approved setting aside at least 2 percent of property tax revenues, not a minimum of 1 percent, as the charter commission proposed, Yagong said.

"It's still a reasonable amount of money," Ford said, neither too little nor too much.

Ford and Yagong also specified the money should be held in an interest-bearing account; Enriques' amendment referred to the fund accruing interest.

Another point Ford included in her proposal was to set up a way to prorate the land purchase, to allow other users of property being considered for open space purchase. For example, she said, if a 10-acre parcel is in a location that needs or would need in the future a fire station on 2 acres, the open space fund could pay for 80 percent of the land purchase 8 acres and a different county fund could pay for the remaining 20 percent, the 2 acres.

"I wanted to be able to use a parcel of land for multiple uses," Ford said. "Some parcels of land lend themselves to multiple uses."

Ford also brought an alternative amendment for another of the charter commission's recommendations, this one regarding council district reapportionment. She said the commission did a good job in its proposal in making requirements of the four criteria outlined in the county code: That no district shall be drawn to favor or penalize a person or political group, that districts shall be contiguous and compact, that district lines shall follow permanent features and that districts shall have about equal resident populations. Ford said she took the criteria further, to ensure that the differences in how many people each council member represents, known as the deviation in districting lingo, does not exceed the standards previously established by the U.S. Supreme Court. She also wanted to prevent "interested communities," such as subdivisions, from being divided during redistricting. That happened to Hawaiian Paradise Park and other subdivisions during the 2001 redistricting process, she said.