Monday | November 20, 2017
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Should fuel tax revenue be used for private roads?

As Hawaii County considers large increases to the fuel tax, should any of that extra revenue go to help improve substandard private roads?

That was a question raised Tuesday as the Hawaii County Council considered a resolution seeking to authorize grants for private roads used as main thoroughfares, such as in large subdivisions, during a Finance Committee meeting.

While several council members supported the intent, the council postponed the measure because of concerns about the legality of using public funds for private roads. That’s an issue that has plagued past attempts to subsidize improvements to streets — often unpaved — that are maintained by neighborhood associations.

“I think (the law) is very clear,” said Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung. “I think the best thing to do is work with the Legislature.”

Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara, who introduced the resolution, noted past attempts to change the law failed but there could be enough legal wiggle room if a public nexus is found.

“I’m a little concerned that we are going to sit here and twiddle our thumbs and wait for something to happen,” she said. “And I’m not of that nature. I like to get things done.”

Testifiers noted the private roads are open to the general public.

There also were concerns of the costs being unspecified.

“I think we have to be very mindful and careful how we craft an authorization such as this,” said Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David. “Because it will apply to all private roads and not only in Puna.”

The resolution seeks to authorize an unspecified percentage of fuel tax revenues as a grant-in-aid program to “qualifying nonprofit organizations for the purpose of road repair and maintenance of private streets and roadways used regularly as main thoroughfares by the public.” It also would authorize the formation of an ad hoc committee to establish rules and procedures for the grants.

Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela said the resolution wouldn’t have the force of law. He said he agreed state law prohibits public funds from being used for private roads except for emergencies or dedications to the county.

Mayor Harry Kim is proposing to increase the county’s gas tax from 8.8 cents a gallon to 19 cents. That would be followed by increases of 2 cents in each of the next two years until it reaches 23 cents, which is the amount Maui charges and is the highest in the state.

Hawaii County’s gas tax currently is the lowest in the state and raises just more than $8 million a year. It was last raised in 1988.

The council will consider the tax hike today when it meets in the Hilo council chambers at 25 Aupuni St.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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