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What the Hecht? Debbie Hecht on the 2% Charter Amendment

Debbie Hecht

Debbie Hecht

Guest Commentary by Debbie Hecht:

Council member Brenda Ford will be proposing   CHANGES to the THE OPEN SPACE CHARTER AMENDMENT to be heard on September 7  in Hilo, at the 2:30 Finance Committee. The next time will be September 21st  in Kona, October 5 in Hilo and October 19 in Kona.

SAVE THESE DATES TO TESTIFY-If the charter amendment fails at first reading the matter is finished so please show up for the committee hearing and the 1st reading. we will keep you posted!

WE NEED YOUR HELP TO GET THIS ON THE BALLOT FOR 2012—-It is required to get this proposed charter amendment through the committee and 3 readings to get this on the ballot to let the voters decide ONCE AGAIN.

Charter amendments need 6 council members to vote YES

so please Ask THE COUNCIL MEMBERS:    Let the people decide at the polls in 2012 whether or not to make deposits of 2% of our property taxes to the land fund.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP to secure 6 VOTES:

**   Call and email the council members:  Cut and paste the following email list:

<bsmart@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <dikeda@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <donishi@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <fblas@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <jyoshimoto@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <wkenoi@co.hawaii.hi.us>, “Brenda Ford” <bford@co.hawaii.hi.us>, “Dominic Yagong” <dyagong@co.hawaii.hi.us>, “Pete Hoffmann” <phoffmann@co.hawaii.hi.us>, “Pilago, Angel” <apilago@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <counciltestimony@co.hawaii.hi.us>,

Click here to find the council members PHONE numbers:

http://www.hawaii-county.com/council/districts.htm

WHY DO WE NEED A 2% CHARTER AMENDMENT?

1.       WE will be assured that 2% of our property taxes will be deposited each year at budget time.  Remember the Mayor and Council suspended deposits to the fund from 2009 to 2o11, which meant we did not have $8 million to acquire land during that time. They would be required by law to deposit the 2% amount.  AND they cannot change the law!

2.            Charter amendments can only be changed by a vote of the people, not the council or Mayor.

3.            Remember 2% of our property taxes is approximately $4 million per year. The great “gift” of the land fund is to obtain matching funds.  $4 million becomes $8 million if the county gets dollar-for-dollar matching funds. So far the county has obtained $2.145 in matching funds.

4.            There are still MANY properties our communities want to acquire – see the list below compiled from the Public Access and Open Space Commission’s recommended List of properties sent to the Mayor further down in this article.

5.            With a 2% charter amendment in place we won’t waste citizens time in going to council meetings during budget hearings to testify AND we won’t waste council member’s time having to listen to testimony.

 

DIDN’T WE ALREADY VOTE ON THIS?  Yes, twice!! Once in 2006 as an ordinance for 2% of our property taxes to be set aside, which was later suspended by the council and Mayor.  Again, in 2010  for a 1% charter amendment which is only for $2 million per year.  57% of us voted twice to support these measures!!

 Properties Acquired by the County since 2006* costing Hawaii County $11,297,000:

1.       Waipio Look out for  $902,145. (Hamakua Coast)   (No matching funds)

2.            Kawa Bay (Puna)  $1.9 million County with $1.2 from the State Legacy Lands and funds from US Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the endangered Hawksbill Turtle

3.            Kaiholena North (Kohala)   $6.55 million with no matching funds

4.            Pao’o  (Kohala)  $945, 000.00 with $945,000. From NOAA

2% Land Fund Top Picks by the Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Commission

SUSPENDING DEPOSITS TO THE FUND: As you can see there are still many properties to be acquired, costing millions of dollars.  The county’s suspending deposits to the fund for two years  (2009-2100) really slowed down the acquisition program.

The following properties were on the Commission’s recommended list to the Mayor from 2001-2010, but have not been acquired. 

Pohoiki Bay  (Puna), Keawenui Access Easement  (Kohala), Hamakua Springs Agricultural Conservation Easement (Hamakua), Hapu‘u to Kapanai‘a Cultural Corridor (North Kohala), Kawa  (Ka’u), Kingman Trust (Kona), Kahuku Coastal Property (Ka’u), Kaiholena-south  (Kohala), Kukuipahu-Ha‘ena Corridor (Kohala), Mahukona  (Kohala), Honolulu Landing (Puna), Wai’ele  (Puna), Puapua’a (Kona), O’oma II (Kona)

* The Open Space Commission’s Annual Reports and the Financial Data can be found at

http://www.hawaii-county.com/finance/ponc.htm

To be PROPOSED by Council member Brenda Ford:

Bill 87 Draft 1-

The 2% for the Land Fund Charter Amendment

Changes are highlighted to the existing charter amendment are in yellow.

(Note: stricken or crossed out material is from the existing charter amendment that is to be changed, underlined material is new material to change the existing charter amendment)

AN ORDINANCE TO INITIATE A CHARTER AMENDMENT TO ARTICLE X, FINANCIAL PROCEDURES, SECTION 10 -15, OF THE HAWAII COUNTY CHARTER (2010 EDITION), REGARDING THE PUBLIC ACCESS, OPEN SPACE, AND NATURAL RESOURCES PRESERVATION FUND.

BE IT ORDAINED BY THE COUNCIL OF THE COUNTY OF HAWAII:

SECTION 1. Article X, Financial Procedures, Section 10 -15, of the Hawai`i County

Charter (2010 Edition), relating to the Public Access, Open Space, and Natural Resources Preservation Fund, is amended to read as follows:

Section 10 -15. Public Access, Open Space, and Natural Resources Preservation Fund.

a) In adopting each fiscal year’ s operating budget [and capital program], the council shall appropriate a minimum of [one] two percent of the certified real property tax revenues, including penalty and interest, to a fund known as the public access, open space, and natural resources preservation fund. Deposits to the fund shall occur at a minimum, on a quarterly basis.

b) Funding shall consist of a minimum of [one] two percent of actual revenue received in the fiscal year. Additional revenue may consist of grants and private contributions intended for the purpose of this section, voluntary contributions of any amount as specified on the real property tax bill, proceeds from the sale of general obligation bonds authorized and issued for the purpose of this section, council appropriations for the purpose of this section, [and grants and private contributions intended for the purpose of this section,] and any other source of revenue.

c) Monies in this fund shall be used solely to:

1) Purchase or otherwise acquire lands [or property entitlement:] and easements in the County of Hawaii for public outdoor recreation and education, including:

A) Access to beaches and mountains;

B) Preservation of historic or culturally important land areas and sites;

C) Protection of natural resources, significant habitat or eco- systems, including buffer zones;

D) Protection of watershed lands to preserve water quality and water supply.

(2) Pay the principal, interest and premium, if any, due with respect to bonds issued in whole for the purpose of this fund.

d) Any balance remaining in the fund at the end of any fiscal year shall not lapse, but shall remain in the fund accumulating interest from year to year. The moneys in this fund shall not be used for any purpose except those listed in this section.

e) The council shall by ordinance establish procedures for the administration and expenditure of moneys in this fund.

f) This fund shall be used for acquisition of land and easements and shall not be used for development, maintenance or for any purpose other than as provided in this section.

g) The highest and best use of this fund is to leverage the money in the fund by attracting matching funds, although, matching funds are not required in every purchase.

h) Any land acquired with this fund shall contain the following restrictive covenant in its recorded deed of conveyance: ” This land was acquired with moneys from the Public Access, Open Space, and Natural Resources Preservation Fund. It shall be held in perpetuity for the use and enjoyment of the people of Hawai` i County and may not be sold, mortgaged, traded or transferred in any way.”

i) Any easement acquired with this fund shall contain the following restrictive covenant in its recorded deed of conveyance: ” This easement was acquired with moneys from the Public Access, Open Space, and Natural Resources Preservation Fund. It shall be held in perpetuity for the use and enjoyment of the people of Hawai` i County and may not be sold, mortgaged, traded or transferred in any way.”

SECTION 2. Charter material to be repealed is bracketed and stricken. New charter material is underscored. When revising, compiling, or printing these charter provisions for inclusion in the Charter of the County of Hawai` i, the reviser need not include the brackets, bracketed material, or underscoring.

SECTION 3. If any provision of this ordinance, or the application thereof to any person or circumstance is held invalid, such invalidity shall not affect other provisions or applications of the ordinance, which can be given effect without the invalid provision or application, and to this end, the provisions of this ordinance are severable.

SECTION 4. Upon adoption of this ordinance, this council, by appropriate resolution,

Shall provide that this amendment be submitted to the electorate of Hawaii County for approval in the 2012 general election.

SECTION 5. The charter amendment proposed in this ordinance shall take effect upon its approval by a majority of voters voting on this legislation in the 2012 General Election, as duly certified. Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (a), proration of the deposits affected by this legislation shall begin on November 7, 2012.

Please call with questions:

Debbie Hecht

Campaign Coordinator, Save Our Lands Citizens Committee

 

What the Hecht on the 2% Land Fund

Debbie Hecht

Commentary by Debbie Hecht:

I think it is important to know, prior to receiving the Mayor’s budget,  and to remember that we have the commitment of 6 council members, who support reinstating the 2% amount of our property taxes to the Land Fund. (see attached 5 pledges and an email from Angel Pilago)

There are many properties to still be acquired and  there is still $3.5 million in the fund that the Kenoi administration has not spent.  Kaiholena south is still for sale which would help to secure the Kohala coast. There are other properties that the council has set aside for sale too. Reports and the financial data are available at:

http://www.hawaii-county.com/finance/ponc.htm

We hope that the Mayor and council continue to honor 57% of voters who voted in 2006 to set aside 2% of our taxes to preserve our open spaces.  In 2010, again,   57.5% of voters  voted to set aside a minimum of 1% of our property taxes as a  charter amendment (which the Mayor and council cannot change without a vote of the people).  This consistent vote of 57% of voters on our island was in a serious recession.  Many people doubted that we would continue steadfast  in our commitment to acquire  the great places that make our island one of the most beautiful places in the world AND also could be the foundation for an eco-tourism industry on this island.   The vote in 2010 of 57.5% occurred even after the Mayor raised our property taxes.

We ask our elected officials to PLEASE honor the vote of 57% of voters on this island and reinstate the 2% amount so we can save Hawaii Island’s great places.

Mahalo-

Debbie

County Council Candidate Forum, Thursday August 31st

The public is invited to a nonpartisan, moderated candidate forum.

Thursday, August 31, County Council Candidate Forum, 6 p.m. til 8 p.m.
Come early, food sales  benefit Kealakehe High Culinary Program and Rotary Sunrise by Tante’s Restaurant at 5 p.m.

County Council District 7, South Kona:  Incumbent Brenda Ford, Enoch Friere
County Council District 8, North Kona:  Incumbent Kelly Greenwell, Debbie Hecht , Angel Pilago, Jim Rath

Forum moderator is Sherry Bracken ,  news reporter for Hawaii Public Radio and host of the LAVA 105.3 fm and KKOA 107.7 fm weekly broadcast, Island Issues.
Please submit questions in advance to sherryb@lava105.com  or at the forum.  Questions call Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce, 329-1758.

Sponsors:

West Hawaii Today
Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce
Kohala Coast Resort Association
Kona Outdoor Circle
Community Enterprises – Kona Town Meetings
Rotary Sunrise and Tante’s Restaurant
LAVA 105.3 FM/Mahalo Broadcasting
Kealakehe High School

What the Hecht… Commentary by Debbie Hecht

Commentary from Debbie Hecht:

Aloha 2% supporters:

BILL 263- 2% Land Fund charter amendment will be heard on Wednesday, June 23rd in Hilo at the council chambers at 10:45. A big Mahalo to Council member Pete Hoffman for introducing this Bill. Video conferencing will be available from Waimea and Kona.  To put a charter amendment on the ballot, 3 readings are required and we need 6 votes at each reading.

PLEASE EMAIL THE COUNCIL IF YOU CANNOT ATTEND.

Remember it’s an election year and your voice can be heard LOUDLY!  Please email the entire list or call your council member- the email list and a link to their phone numbers are below.

TALKING POINTS:

  1. This is a simple matter.  Put the 2% LAND FUND on the ballot along with the 1% Land Fund charter amendment being introduced by the Charter commission and LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE.
  2. The 2% Land Fund was approved by 63% of voters in 2006.
  3. The Land Fund is successful! The following parcels have been purchased with 2% land fund monies:  Waipio Lookout, Kawa Bay- Ka’u (2 parcels, one is under negotiation), Kaiholena (150 acres) and Pao’o In North Kohala.
  4. 1% of property taxes is approximately $2 million per year, 2% is $4 miliion per year. Land is expensive on Hawaii Island; we need 2% or $4 million to attract dollar for dollar matching funds.
  5. This will not take effect until July 1, 2011, so the council’s suspension of the funds will be honored, and not affect the budget.

AN OVERVIEW OF BILL 263:

  • 2% of property taxes shall be placed in the fund at least twice per year in an interest bearing account.
    Describes the purpose for the acquisition of land.
  • Fund shall be used for acquisition only.
  • Highest and best use of the fund is to attract matching funds.
  • A covenant shall be recorded and run with the land that will say:  “These lands were purchased with moneys from the Public access and Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Fund.  It shall e held in perpetuity for the use and enjoyment of the people of Hawai’i County. This land may not be sold, mortgaged, traded or transferred in any way.”

To read the bill, click here: http://records.co.hawaii.hi.us/weblink/0/doc/739778/Page1.aspx

CUT AND PASTE THIS EMAIL LIST: <dikeda@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <donishi@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <enaeole@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <counciltestimony@co.hawaii.hi.us>,  <dyagong@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <genriques@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <bford@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <kgreenwell@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <jyoshimoto@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <phoffmann@co.hawaii.hi.us>

FOR YOUR COUNCIL MEMBERS PHONE NUMBER CLICK HERE:

http://www.hawaii-county.com/council/districts.htm

Department of Land and Natural resources will be holding information meetings on proposed CONSERVATION DISTRICT rule amendments:

Kona July 6, 2010 at the Mayor’s Conference Room 75-5706 Kuakini Hwy. Room 103- 6:00 pm

Hilo- July 7, 2010 at the Hilo State Office building 75 Aupuni St. Room C –  6:00 pm

ARE YOU REGISTERED TO VOTE?

  • Did you get the yellow postcard verifying that you are registered to vote?
  • If not,  print out the attached, fill out the form and mail it in TODAY!

Mahalo for your help and support!

Debbie

Debbie Hecht on Vacant County Positions

Commentary by Debbie Hecht:

In the February 27, 2009 letter (see attached) from Mayor Kenoi to the Hawaii County Council, which introduced the budget, he states:  “I imposed a temporary hiring suspension at the beginning of my administration and we are currently holding 481 positions vacant. This budget eliminates funding for 42 of those positions. ”

In the 2009-2010 budget, 55 positions were cut- for a total of 384 funded but unfilled positions.

In the 2010-2011 budget 70 more funded but unfilled jobs in the budget. There are still  314 funded but unfilled jobs. At a conservative estimate of $40,000 per job (not including benefits) this is still $12,560,000. in the budget.

From the Mayor’s letter to council on the 2010-2011 budget click here to read the entire letter

(each paragraph is from a different part of the letter, listed here in order of appearance):

“This year (meaning during the last budget cycle) we unfunded 55 vacant positions, which was the largest number of positions ever to be unfunded in a single County budget. In our new FY 2010-11 budget, we propose unfunding even more — an additional 70 positions. That’s an unprecedented total of 125 positions unfunded in the first two years of this administration.

VACANT POSITIONS

After unfunding 55 positions in the fiscal year 2009-2010 budget, we have continued to review funded vacant positions to determine those that can be safely unfunded or partially funded for the upcoming budget year without adversely impacting County operations and services to the public beyond an acceptable level.  This budget reflects the unfunding of 70 additional positions and partial funding of 43 more positions in fiscal year 2010-2011. Partial funding represents a reduction in the salary budget for a position that may be vacant for a portion of the year. The total value of the unfunded positions, adjusted for furloughs, amounts to $2,770,356. *

The review process involved identifying funded vacant positions that were public safety, grant funded, and special revenue fund positions, as well as positions in the legislative branch.  In addition to the importance of retaining funding for public safety purposes, it was recognized that most vacant positions in the Police and Fire departments are offset by new recruits, which are not separately funded. **  Positions that are funded by grants or special revenue funds do not impact the general fund budget.  The remaining funded vacant positions were carefully reviewed individually.

Normally, funds not expended because a position is temporarily vacant are used to cover the cost of vacation payouts for retirees*** and for the temporary assignment or overtime pay that may result from covering the vacant position until it can be filled.  The savings resulting from unfunding additional general fund positions after the March 1, 2010 budget submittal have been placed in the general fund provision for cash-in-lieu of vacation account****.

Vacant Positions – We originally proposed in March to unfund 62 vacant positions, excluding the bands. This amended budget proposal includes a total of 70 positions that have been unfunded. All remaining funded positions are considered to be essential to County operations, or they have an existing incumbent temporarily assigned to a worker compensation position or in some other temporary appointment.”

QUESTIONS:

*   How does this work?

**  Where does the money come from for new recruits?

***  people retired from the county get vacations benefits?  Paid vacations?

**** What is a cash-in-lieu of vacation account?

1% or 2% Charter Amendment for the Land Fund – Council Recommendations

Commentary:

More 2% News:

The Charter Commission has submitted their charter amendments to the council for comments (as required by the Hawaii County Charter). The council’s comments are due to the charter commission by mid-May. The following resolutions are recommendations to the CHARTER COMMISSION about what will be placed on the ballot.  The following THREE Resolutions recommending changes in the 1% Land Fund Charter amendment will be heard on Wednesday, May 5th at 9:45 at the Sheraton Keauhou.

We recommend that you support Resolution #335.  We have been working with Dominic Yagong and his staff to bring forward this resolution.

TWO things to REMEMBER:

  1. You will see charter amendments on the ballot in November.
  2. The 1% amount as part of  the charter guarantees that at least 1% be placed in the fund each year. The open space ordinance in the code still exists at 2% and is set to resume July 1, 2011.

Council member Yagong’s Resolution #335 recommends:

  1. 2% of property taxes are deposited in the fund at least twice per year (2% is what 63% of the public voted for in 2006 and approx. $4 million per year- this would reinstate the 2% amount)
  2. The Land fund is an interest bearing account ($400,000+ in interest has been earned over the last 4 years).
  3. The fund shall be used for acquisition and NOT for maintenance (This is a Parks and Recreation function, they have a $23 million per year budget- the mayor and council can appropriate funds for maintenance)
  4. To protect the lands purchased by taxpayer’s money, we must have a clause to protect these lands from being resold.  This clause shall run with the land and be recorded as part of the Deed on all past and future purchases: “This property was purchased with monies from the Public Access, Open Space, and Natural Resources Preservation Fund. It shall be held in perpetuity for the use and enjoyment of the people of Hawai’i County. This land may not be sold, mortgaged, traded or transferred in any way.”   (This is necessary because we have seen that the State sells off conservation land in the regular course of business.  Who’s to say that the county won’t start selling land to balance their budget?  A good case in point is the sale of the Hamakua Sugar lands.)

Council member Enriques’ Resolution #336 recommends:

  1. Land fund deposits shall be at 1% per year (which is only approximately $2 million per year)
  2. Monies in this fund shall be used solely to:  (c), – ” Maintain and manage lands purchased by this fund. Ten percent of the annual fund deposits shall be designated for such maintenance and management of the lands purchased by this fund.” My comment (Hecht): The great gift of the fund is to attract matching funds. The matching funds are for acquisition only. We may not be able to attract matching funds, with this clause in the charter. ALSO all of the Land Fund money will be used for maintenance- which is like adding the money back to the general fund. )

Council member Ford’s Resolution #337 recommends:

Much the same as council member Yagong’s resolution, and recommends to reinstates he 2% amount BUT does not include Yagong’s  #4 because it would conflict with Ms. Ford’s

(g) which states: “Other funds for purposes other than public access, opens space or natural resources preservation may be used on a prorated basis to purchase a portion of a proposed public access, open space and natural resources preservation fund acquisition. Other funds shall consist of County operational or capital improvement project funds, grants or proceeds form the sale of bonds from any other sources of revenue or funding. The prorated portion of the land purchased with other funds may then be used only for County public health, safety and welfare purposes.”

QUESTIONS OR WANT TO DISCUSS THIS FURTHER?  Call me:  989-3222.

PLEASE EMAIL TESTIFY AT THE COUNCIL MEETING OR CALL OR EMAIL THE COUNCIL MEMBERS:

<dikeda@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <donishi@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <enaeole@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <cohmayor@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <counciltestimony@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <dyagong@co.hawaii.hi.us>,  <genriques@co.hawaii.hi.us>,  <bford@co.hawaii.hi.us>,  <kgreenwell@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <jyoshimoto@co.hawaii.hi.us>,  <phoffmann@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <KEOFF@co.hawaii.hi.us>,

Mahalo-

Debbie Hecht

Campaign Coordinator, Save our Lands Citizen’s Committee

Debbie Hecht – “The 2% Land Fund is Now the 1% Land Fund”

Aloha 2% Supporters:

The Hawaii County council will meet on Tuesday, April 20th at 9:00 am at the Sheraton Keauhou. There will be video-conferencing from Hilo ONLY. The first order of business that morning will be Communication 687.1 REPORT FROM THE CHARTER COMMISSION .

The 2% Land Fund is now the 1% Land Fund (approximately $2 million per year) .

If this upsets you, please show up to testify or send an email to the county council and the Mayor.

PLEASE ASK THE COUNCIL TO RECOMMEND THAT THE CHARTER COMMISSION REINSTATE THE 2% AMOUNT

On the subject line be sure to note :

Comm. 687.1- Report from the Charter Commission about the Land fund.

<dikeda@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <donishi@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <enaeole@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <cohmayor@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <counciltestimony@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <dyagong@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <genriques@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <bford@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <kgreenwell@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <jyoshimoto@co.hawaii.hi.us>, <phoffmann@co.hawaii.hi.us>, keoff@co.hawaii.hi.us

I’ve attached CA-15 which is the proposed legislation from the Charter Commission. You can scroll down to read the clauses that I think should be added to honor 63% of us who voted for the 2% Land Fund in 2006, to protect the fund AND the land that is purchased.

******************************************************************************************************

MY TESTIMONY to the HAWAII COUNTY COUNCIL- As you know the charter commission has been meeting since January. Many of the 2% supporters have attended almost every meeting. We are very frustrated. Over 100 people sent emails to the commission and at 100 people took time out of their busy lives to show up and testify in front of the commission. All of these voters testified about a 2% Land Fund, not a ½% Land Fund and not a 1% Land Fund.

We ask that you recommend that the charter commission reinstate the 2% amount, as voters approved by 63% in 2006. People in your districts are upset that you cut the 2% deposits for 2 years. This will be a campaign issue for the 2010 campaign season.

Please recommend that the charter commission include the following in their proposed charter amendment CA-15 The Land Fund:

The amount that shall be deposited at least twice per year shall be 2% of property taxes including penalties and interest.

The land Fund shall be an Interest bearing account. We heard testimony that the Finance department does this anyway, but unless it is in the legislation this is not a requirement.

Land Fund monies shall be used for acquisition only and not for development or maintenance of properties.

To protect the lands purchased by taxpayers money, we must have a clause to protect these lands from being resold. This clause that shall run with the land and be recorded as part of the Deed on all past and future purchases: “This property was purchased with monies from the Public Access, Open Space, and Natural Resources Preservation Fund. It shall be held in perpetuity for the use and enjoyment of the people of Hawai’i County. This land may not be sold, mortgaged, traded or transferred in any way.” This is necessary because we have seen that the State sells off conservation land in the regular course of business. Who’s to say that the county won’t start selling land to balance their budget? A good case in point is the sale of the Hamakua Sugar lands.

Mahalo-

Debbie Hecht

Campaign Coordinator, Save our Lands Citizen’s Committee

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