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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 11, 2010

Property taxes on hold for cabins at Koke'e park

By Paul C. Curtis
Garden Island

LIHU'E, Kaua'i Lessees of cabins on state land in Koke'e State Park did not have to pay county real property taxes on their mountain getaways in 2008 and 2009, a county official said.

Belma Baris, deputy director of the county Finance Department, said that, after the state Department of Land and Natural Resources assumed ownership of the Koke'e cabins in 2007 after the 25-year leases expired, the county stopped collecting real property taxes from the lessees.

"Based on the arrangement with the state, it is our understanding that the cabin owners are now being issued year-to-year, revocable permits," she said.

"Until we receive notification from DLNR as to the status of the leases, real property taxes on the cabins have been put on hold. We may retro-charge the lessees for tax years 2008 and 2009," she said.

Deborah Ward, DLNR spokesperson, said due to Friday's lengthy Board of Land and Natural Resources meeting she would not be able to respond to questions about county taxes from the Koke'e cabin lands.

A leaseholder confirms much of what Baris said.

He told The Garden Island the lessees aren't paying real property taxes.

In a reaction to the newspaper's exclusive story in Thursday's paper about an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court over the state's plan to take back the cabins without justly compensating the lessees for value of the cabins and improvements, lessee Erik Coopersmith responded via e-mail.

"Currently, Koke'e lessees do not pay property taxes on their leased Koke'e State Park land and/or cabins," said Coopersmith, also a new member of the Koke'e State Park Advisory Council.

He is also a member of the council's permitted interaction group (with council Chair Canan Ho'okano and member Noreen Ohai-Daniels) speaking with DLNR leaders about a proposed auction this year of leases on 16 vacant cabins at Koke'e.

"Historically, they (les- sees) did pay those property taxes to the county, but that was when everybody agreed that the lessees owned the cabins," said Coopersmith.

"After 2005, when all the leases were converted from 'general leases' to 'special permits' and the state assumed ownership of the cabins, lessees stopped getting real property tax assessments from the county," he said.

"Since the leases were re-negotiated beginning in 2009, I can only assume that the state, as the land and cabin-owner, pays those property taxes to the county," Coopersmith said.

Wallace Rezentes Jr., county finance director, said he has to refer to county tax codes on taxing temporary uses on state and federal lands, adding he'd like to see the revenue.

"I'm hoping it's all taxable."