Big Isle residents slam tax hike bill
By John Burnett
The public sent a unanimous message to the Hawai'i County Council at a Monday night hearing: Don't raise real property tax rates.
About a dozen people testified against the proposed tax hikes. The council will consider the bill June 7 in Hilo.
Under the proposal, the tax rate on residential land and buildings would go up from $7.10 to $9.10 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
Apartment rates would rise from $8.10 to $9.85, hotel and resort rates from $9 to $9.85, agricultural rates from $6.35 to $8.35, conservation land from $8.55 to $9.85, and commercial and industrial from $9 to $9.10.
Both homeowner-occupant rates and affordable rental housing rates would remain the same, at $5.55 per $1,000 of net valuation.
Fred Housel asked the council to do a "sanity check" before raising tax rates.
"Many residents are just getting by, tapping savings and retirement accounts to pay the bills. ... There's no question that taking more money from people's pockets at this time will have a negative effect," Housel said. "With the proposed tax rate increases in residential, apartment and agriculture, rents will have to be raised, making the cost of housing even more expensive."
Tim Rees said homeowner-occupant rates are too low, but added he "cannot find a good reason" for the proposed rate hike on ag land and buildings.
"If you're in farming, with 150 inches of rain a year, you're required to have (higher-valued) structures that you may not have in a better climate. They're not luxury items," he said. "No farmer I know builds a luxury corral, or barn, or shed for animals where they can birth. These are essentials. We keep talking about agriculture and how we want to promote it. Then why would we be raising this up? It's kind of like kicking people when they're down."
Susan Hamilton called talk about supporting local agriculture "lip service."
"I don't see a lot of support," she said.
Devaki Klare called the proposed 31.5 percent tax increase on agriculture "ridiculous."
"Agriculture means raising food," she said. "Take the money from the police. They get a big part of the budget and they're always asking for more and they always seem to get it."