County Council Update

Aloha, everyone. Once again, here is our monthly update:

VACATION RENTAL BILL AND BOARD OF ETHICS REQUEST

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As some of you may have read in the May 3 West Hawaii Today and Hawaii Tribune-Herald headline, I took it upon myself to request a Board of Ethics opinion. Although I didn’t need to, I felt it important to clarify whether or not I had a conflict of interest to vote on Bill 108 relating to short-term vacation rentals. On May 7 I appeared before the Board of Ethics and was found to have no conflict and cleared to participate. After almost six hours of testimony previously, Bill 108 came again before the Committee on Planning on May 8; there was much to discuss to outline the main goal of any legislation regarding short-term rentals for Hawaii County. I have received numerous emails and calls on this topic. We now need to find that balance going forward.

As previously stated, my wife and I manage a vacation rental on our family ranch. We have always been compliant with all of our tax filings; GE and TAT. Like many, we use this additional income to pay mortgages, offset startup costs of our cattle ranching and help pay other living expenses. Because of this I have very clear insight to some of the concerns raised by Bill 108.

Due to me and my family’s long-standing presence in the county and state, I am involved in many things both in business and civically. I believe it is logical to assume that because of this and as a sitting councilman, from time to time things will come before us that I have knowledge of, sometimes extensively, because of my life experiences. Part of this is why I believe I was elected and expected to weigh in and give input on different subject matters that will come before us. My background of the county is extensive and no one wants our county and our people to succeed more than me. My background in agriculture, land and water management and stewardship is also extensive. As a private business owner for 25+ years my knowledge base of small business functioning in Hawaii County is also extensive. My experiences and work on tourism in agriculture goes back at least a decade and our county as yet has not figured that one out.

There is always the concern of a conflict of interest or even its perception which is why I took it upon myself to make the request for a Board of Ethics opinion.

BUDGET 2018-2019 UPDATE

Mayor Kim’s draft 2 of his March 5 budget for 2018–2019 came out on May 4 for council consideration. The first draft came in at $515 million, 5 percent higher than last year’s $491 million budget. The second version was at $518 million. By County Charter, meaning “by law,” a balanced budget is required to start any new fiscal year.

At the same time, we were considering a proposal for a hike in the General Excise Tax (GET). Initial potential revenue estimates of a half percent increase would yield the county approximately $20 million. GET has now been postponed until January 2019.

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I have made my position very clear early on concerning the GET; if I could get a decrease on Real Property Tax (RPT) of 4 percent and Fuel Tax (FT) of 7 percent then I would consider supporting a half percent GET increase. This would save the constituency approximately $10-$11 million. Our citizens would have the increase in their taxes from the GET offset by a decrease in their RPT and FT. The net effect is approximately zero. An additional $10 million projected from GET would mostly come from our visitors. This increased tax collection primarily from outside the county could be a win for the county.

I have submitted legislation to this effect and timing it to be heard during the same time that consideration on the budget is being heard. I continue to push away from the “silo-legislation” that we seem to be locked into. We must consider an overall budget and it’s funding in context with all facets and not make decisions independent of the rest.