County still awaiting settlement over DHHL taxes


By TOM CALLIS

Tribune-Herald staff writer

A settlement between Hawaii County and the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands over tax debt from homesteaders remains elusive.

Officials said last February that they were working toward a resolution, but progress has since stalled.

“In working with the department, we hadn’t had any discussions,” county Finance Director Nancy Crawford said about a month ago. “There was a change earlier last year in spring with the chairman, and since then we have not gone back and discussed this.”

Crawford said Thursday talks hadn’t recommenced and the county is currently waiting its turn behind Maui County.

DHHL spokesman Darrell Young said the agency is working to reach a settlement with Maui County and expects to pick up talks with Hawaii County afterward.

“We will work with Maui and kind of come around,” he said.

Hawaii and Maui counties are seeking a settlement with the agency because counties lack the authority to foreclose on homes on DHHL lands, leaving them without a key enforcement measure.

On other lands, the county has the ability to foreclose on a property after three years of delinquent payments.

Maui County has been seeking a resolution with DHHL since 2003, said Maui County spokesman Rod Antone.

“It’s been challenging,” he said, noting recent turnovers in DHHL leadership had made progress difficult.

Antone said he couldn’t estimate when a resolution will be reached.

“The good thing is everybody is still talking,” he said.

DHHL beneficiaries owed about $476,000 to Hawaii County in delinquent property taxes, penalties and interest as of December. Islandwide, the county is owed about $19.6 million in delinquent property taxes.

Crawford said she may seek to restart discussion with DHHL if it takes too long to settle with Maui County.

Hawaii County last reached a settlement with DHHL for delinquent property taxes in 2002.

It received $506,583 then from the agency in exchange for waiving all penalty and interest charges.

Crawford said the talks can be complicated and take time to resolve.

“That’s just part of the process,” she said.

Young said settlements may vary from county to county.

“We’d like to have some sort of universal approach,” he said.

DHHL beneficiaries are exempted from property taxes for the first seven years of their lease, often for a 99-year term.

Afterward, they are charged tax for the value of the home and other structures.

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

 

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