Debbie Hecht – “Open Letter to the Hawaii County Charter Commission”

Please reinstate the 2% Land Fund, More than Half %  ($1 million) is needed to preserve Hawaii Island’s great places…

Open Letter to the Charter Commission:

Aloha Charter Commissioners: Chairman Edmund Haitsuka, Vice Chairman David Fuertes, Daphne Honma, Casey Jarman, Guy Kaulukukui, Jamae Kawauchi, Joseph Kealoha, Alapaki Nahale-A, Susie Osborne, Todd Shumway and Scott Unger,

We respectfully request that the charter commission, appointed to represent the citizens of Hawaii County, vote to reinstate the 2% Land Fund charter amendment, which will deposit 2% of yearly property taxes in the Land Fund.

In 2006, in order to conserve Hawaii Island’s great places, citizens took the very difficult and time-consuming step of gathering signatures for a petition initiative drive to get this issue on the ballot.  This onerous step was necessary, because the county council had failed twice to pass a bill to set aside 2% of property taxes. Please honor over 200 of your friends and neighbors who volunteered and collected almost 10,000 signatures to get this measure on the ballot, honor 63% of voters who approved this measure at the polls in 2006, by putting the measure on the ballot and once again, let the people decide.

This charter amendment was submitted to replace the Public Access and Open Space section of the county code. It was proposed in order to remove the land fund from the yearly budget wrangling and to make sure that Hawaii Island’s great places will be preserved for future generations.   During the last year’s budget debates, we spent over 3 months in council meetings with over 150 people testifying to leave the Land Fund alone. The council still voted to suspend deposits to the fund for two years at a loss of $8 million.  At this point the charter amendment will direct the county to deposit “not less than half per cent” in the land fund and there  is also a part of the county code that directs the county to deposit 2% in the land fund, which has been suspended for two years. This means that each and every year at budget hearings, citizens will be fighting to keep anything more than half percent ($1 million) in the land fund. The Director of Finance has testified before you that they don’t like to tie up money in special funds. It takes the money out of their control.

The great benefit of the land fund is to establish a dependable funding source to attract matching grants from the State Legacy Land Fund, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Fish and Wildlife Service for endangered species. Two percent of property taxes are approximately $4 million per year, which can be leveraged to $8 million with matching fund grants.  Half percent would mean only $1 million per year or at best  $2 million per year with matching funds.

The Council voted in early 2009, to prioritize 5 properties for preservation.  If all five properties were to be acquired, the cost would be $26.75 million. The properties listed for acquisition are: Kawa Bay in Ka’u (valued at $3.75 million), Pao’o in North Kohala ($2 million), Kaiholena (valued at approximately $13 million for both parcels) and Puapua’a (approximately $ 8 million). As you can see, even with full matching funds, we need to have at least 2% of property taxes per year or $4 million, to acquire any of these properties.   The county has used the 2% funds to acquire Waipio Lookout, Kawa Bay (partial) and the Reisch property in North Kohala.

The ordinance and the proposed charter amendment both describe lands to be preserved as: land for public recreation and education, including access to beaches and mountains; historic or culturally important land areas and sites; natural resources, including buffer zones and watershed lands to preserve water quality and water supply; and forests, beaches, coastal areas, natural beauty and agricultural lands.  In addition, the county could use the Land Fund to buy conservation easements on ranch land and important Agricultural lands and  “extinguish” the development rights on these lands, so they could be kept in AG uses forever and not developed.

Kauai and Maui set aside 1% of their property taxes each year and Oahu sets aside ½ percent per year.  The other counties have more properties, and a larger tax base. A smaller percentage of property taxes still results in significant amounts for their land funds.  For example, property taxes for Oahu were $791 million for 2007 to 2008. Half percent would be $3.95 million.  Most of Oahu is developed or in Federal land for military bases.  Kauai has little remaining open land and is 40% government land, so they do not need as much funding.

To see the text go to this link and look for CA-15:http://www.hawaii-county.com/council/2010_charter_commission/meetings.htm Besides stipulating the percentage of property taxes to be set aside, other important elements in CA-15- The 2% Land Fund include:

Please note: The great strength of charter amendments is that they cannot be changed by the council or Mayor, but only by a vote of the people.

The provision that 2% of property taxes be placed in the Land Fund twice per year after property taxes are collected. The land fund account would be an interest bearing account.

Provisions for how the open space commission members are selected when a vacancy occurs.  This is important because this commission is responsible for recommending how large amounts of money are spent. Council members should choose commissioners who live in that district, so that the commission may have a balanced, countywide perspective and not just be the Mayor’s political appointees.

A list of lands that can be acquired with money from the Fund. For example, I had recently heard that a group wanted to use 2% funds to buy land across from a park for a parking lot.  This is not an intended use of the fund.

A provision stating that this money is to be maximized by searching for dollar for dollar matching funds, not just by paying cash for land.

This also guarantees that the Open Lands and Public Access Commission shall be given staff support and provides for a commission website with specific information so that the public can monitor the deposits and expenditures to the fund, read the yearly report to the Mayor and the prioritized list of land for acquisition.

This charter amendment provides for the duties and responsibilities of the commission. With this amendment as part of the charter, the council could not change the job of the commission.

It describes the prioritized land list that is to be generated each year and the report to the Mayor. These documents are the major duties of this commission in its advisory capacity to the Mayor and council.

It clearly states that these funds are to be used for acquisition only and not for maintenance or development of parklands, which is a Parks and Recreation responsibility.  Mayor Kim had asked the Commission to recommend that the council to use the 2% funds for park maintenance.  This suggestion failed, but we expect the same issue to come up again and again.

We respectfully request that you submit this charter amendment to voters to set aside 2% of our property taxes to save our treasured places on Hawaii Island for future generations.  The charter amendment was submitted as 2% and we request that you   LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE (once again) at the POLLS!

Mahalo!

Debbie Hecht, Campaign Coordinator, Save our Lands Citizen’s Committee,

hecht.deb@gmail.com

One Response

  1. Mahalo!

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