By ERIN MILLER
The County Council’s finance committee postponed a resolution to create a task force to consider possible changes to the county’s property tax code.
Last term, the council ordered a review of the county’s property tax system. The consultant offered 40 recommendations to revise and improve the code, former councilman Pete Hoffmann said during Tuesday afternoon’s finance committee hearing at the West Hawaii Civic Center. Council members and Finance Director Nancy Crawford appeared to agree the task force should include members of the community, some council members and finance department staff, but other items Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille included in her motion, including authorizing the task force only through November 2014 and how many people the task force would have, caused the hang up.
Wille made the motion to postpone the vote, giving herself time to amend the resolution.
Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi suggested one person from all nine island districts be invited to the task force. Crawford said she appreciated the sentiment, but didn’t think it would be a good idea.
“In terms of cost and efficiency in operating as a committee, I have concerns about having one participant from each district,” Crawford said. “It is important for the public to be involved and let people know what’s going on and their concerns. A committee of nine plus two council people, plus several administrative people, plus an attorney, I think it may be an unwieldy size.”
Such a large community would also accumulate some costs, because participants, even as volunteers, would be able to claim mileage for driving to the meetings, Crawford said.
Hoffmann provided some background on the evaluation of the property tax situation.
“It was time, we felt, with an increasing number of people in the public complaining, rightly or wrongly, about disparities in our property tax system,” Hoffmann said.
Kona resident Susan McGeachy offered an example of those disparities in her testimony prior to the discussion. McGeachy said she uses part of her home as a vacation rental, and filed for all of the required licenses and pays general excise tax and transient accommodations tax on the income she earns. A few years after doing so, she got a letter from the county demanding more in property taxes, because she couldn’t claim an exemption on the home because she was running a business from there.
“You can buy fresh eggs, hydroponic vegetables, you can have your knife sharpened, family photographed,” McGeachy said, in listing a number of services available in her neighborhood. “They’re not getting charged back taxes. Where do we draw the line between what is a business and what is not?”
Plus, she said, other neighbors rent out portions of their home and don’t pay any taxes. That’s not fair either, she said.
Council members did not discuss any of the recommendations for real property tax system changes.
Earlier Tuesday, the Public Safety and Mass Transit Committee heard a report on the Air National Guard’s Innovative Readiness Training program, which completes infrastructure projects for municipalities around the country and is considering Hawaii Island projects. Council members indicated interest in designating projects for the program, but did not seem supportive of South Kona and Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford’s suggestion to hire a legislative aide to be assigned specifically to coordinating such projects with the Air National Guard.
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