Aloha and a Happy New Year to everyone. I wanted to give you a brief update of some happenings in our county.
COUNTY COUNCIL AND STATE LEGISLATURE
As many of you are aware, our Hawaii State Legislature will convene this month on Jan. 17. The government interaction that you deal with on a day-to-day basis here in our county is a blending between both county and state functions. This blending of efforts between the two entities is what affects all of our daily lives. Seeking that synergy and efficiency is always a challenge, but ongoing communication with our area representation, both in the state House and Senate, is key.
I have been having regular communications with Senator Lorraine Inouye and House Rep. Cindy Evans with the goal to support each other’s intent and initiatives. A couple of quick points; Rep. Evans sponsored a bill for a tiny home initiative to support agricultural worker housing last session and the County Council supported this effort with a resolution cosponsored by Councilmember Jen Ruggles and myself. Though the legislation passed State House and Senate votes, the governor did veto it, based upon saying we already have this ability in our county.
I am currently working with a farmer in our district to construct a “Tiny Home Agricultural Housing” complex as we are told this is possible under our current county ordinances. We are in the process of testing this and Rep. Evans legislation will be there to help support this project.
I am also working with Senator Inouye as she is in the process of putting together a statewide sustainable transportation forum on our island that would obviously be important to our county. My office is working with hers to help facilitate the organization of that meeting. Stay tuned.
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT PLAN ACTION COMMITTEE
Recently, a great effort has been put forth by the County Planning Department to try to fully staff the Community Development Plan (CDP) Action Committees. In District 9, we have three of these committees: North Kohala, South Kohala and Waikoloa.
It is my firm belief that these groups are invaluable resources for expressing some of the current wishes and needs of the community. As your elected official, I seek the input and priority lists from these groups to help guide my initiatives. I have attended meetings and/or met with members from North Kohala and Waikoloa, and plan on getting together with South Kohala shortly.
Top priority for the Waikoloa community is a second access road, and North Kohala would like Mahukona Beach Park upgraded. Although nothing moves quickly, efforts will be concentrated in promoting these community desires.
There has been a great deal of conversation and speculation about upcoming regulations as it pertains to the vacation housing rental industry in our county. This is not just an initiative in our county, but really all counties statewide.
On the one hand, many people use a vacation rental of their personal housing to increase their own income and standard of living. On the other extreme, out-of-state or absentee owners have invested in housing here to be part of the vacation rental industry. Concerns over changing the fabric of the community with too many vacation rentals balanced against a potentially successful business for a local owner will be the challenge.
East Hawaii has relatively few numbers of guest accommodations as compared to West Hawaii. Recognizing the need for rental availability for East Hawaii is equally important. As we get closer to governing legislation and regulation, conversations will need to be had concerning infrastructure impact and needs, general excise tax, transient accommodation tax, community and economic impacts. Look for these conversations to be starting sometime in the first quarter.
KAMUELA AIRPORT AIRLINE SERVICE
As reported previously, the federal subsidy keeping scheduled air service to the Kamuela airport is scheduled to be terminated this month. The Waimea airport is just one of three in the nation under this specific program for underserved areas that receive financial assistance so a private airline can financially function while continuing service. Federal budget cuts have Waimea as slated to lose this support unless some financial support coming from local sources is found. Rep. Evans has championed this conversation in concert with Senator Inouye and myself. Some local funding has been secured with the intent of securing federal funding for one year to give us time to work out a permanent solution. Stay tuned.
REAL PROPERTY TAX, TRANSIENT ACCOMMODATION TAX (TAT) AND THE GENERAL EXCISE TAX (GET)
As all of you are aware, last year saw an increase in our county real property tax rates, except the home owner category. There was also a substantial increase in the fuel tax. Though our county collects a great deal in the way of TAT, our allotment has been capped at approximately $19 million annually. The state is projected to collect over $500 million in TAT for 2017.
Though I did support the increase in the tax rates, I did not support the increase in the fuel tax, as we already had a balanced budget. I did not believe we worked hard enough to control our $491 million budget. With the next year budget expectation of being over $500 million, my concern is how we will fund it without putting more of a burden on our communities.
Recently our state legislature authorized the counties to allow up to a 1/2 percent increase in GET for the counties. Kauai has taken a novel approach for the increase of their GET, while offsetting the income with a reduction in fuel and real property tax rates.
On any given day, approximately 20 percent of the people on the Big Island are tourists. Their daily spending habits are substantially higher than our residents. We may actually be able to shift some of this tax burden from our residents to our visitors. I am in the process of working these numbers to try and understand if this is a good direction for our people.
As always, it is a great privilege to continue to serve as your councilman and I look forward to our future together.