Charter Commission eyes PONC fund: Committee recommends cutting back property taxes going to land preservation

  • Casey Gaspar-Imai, left, Asia Fereti and Chelsey Airinios enjoy the day at Kipapa Park on Monday. PONC funds were used to purchase the land. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Jacob Esteron cooks out at Kipapa Park on Monday. PONC funds were used to purchase the land. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Keiki enjoy the last minutes of daylight in the water at Ooma. PONC funds were used for beach access in the area.(Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

HILO — How much of the budget should the county set aside for preservation and open space land purchases each year?

It’s a question the Charter Commission is grappling with as it ponders amendments to be placed on the 2020 ballot. The commission meets once a decade to consider changes to the county charter, the county’s fundamental governing document.

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All proposals must be approved by voters in order to be included in the charter, which takes precedence over county code and ordinances.

A four-member committee of the 11-member commission is recommending the county trim the current minimum 2 percent of annual property taxes earmarked for the Public Access Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Commission, known by the acronym “PONC.”

Three of the committee think it should be cut to 0.5 percent, while the fourth thinks it should be 1 percent, the committee said in an Oct. 1 report.

The full commission did not discuss the committee report at its meeting Friday. But Mayor Harry Kim is hoping changes can be placed on the 2020 ballot.

Kim would like to see more flexibility, so the county could issue bonds instead of using cash from property taxes for purchases. He’d like to use some of the fund to maintain current county parks. He’d also like to see language eliminated that requires the county keep the land in perpetuity, rather than being able to turn it over to the state or federal government for a park.

“I think you will see that this administration has always supported the protection of special lands,” Kim said. “Our position is not to take away from the principle of protecting special lands; we know that it is very important.”

But former South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford, who worked with constituents to get the land protection measures on the ballot, sought a “hands off” approach.

“To pass any of these changes that the Charter Commission is even considering defeats the will of the people,” Ford said. “If we don’t buy these land parcels now, they won’t be available in the future. … We need to be able to get to our mountains, our seashores, our shoreline and not have the public stopped by private ownership.”

The fund has so far purchased 14 properties totaling about 4,451 acres, at a cost of $39.34 million, with about $10.5 million coming from outside grants. The property accounts for $21,818 worth of property taxes removed from the tax base.

There was $19.6 million in the preservation fund as of Sept. 30, with another $6 million annually expected at the current property value and tax rates. There was $3 million in the maintenance fund.

Cutting the fund to 1 percent could pay for an additional 30 police officers, the committee noted as an illustration of how freeing up some of the money could improve county core services.

The 2 percent PONC acquisition fund, and a separate 0.25 percent for maintenance of the purchased properties, are the only taxpayer money taken off the top, before the budget process begins.

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“Hawaii County’s rate is by far the highest in the state,” the committee said in its report. “Recent fiscal challenges have demonstrated the need to consider the appropriateness of this minimum 2 percent rate.”

Oahu and Kauai each earmark 0.5 percent for property acquisition, while Maui earmarks 1 percent, according to the committee’s research.

  1. KonaDude October 16, 2018 4:30 am

    Don’t buy more than you can afford to maintain, that should be the rule!!


    1. Debbie Hecht October 16, 2018 8:15 am

      There is a maintenance fund that provides for the care of the lands acquired by the 2% Land Fund.


      1. KonaDude October 17, 2018 3:27 am

        Does that come out of the 2%?


  2. Big ideas October 16, 2018 6:07 am

    He’d like to use some of the fund to maintain current county parks.

    Cutting the fund to 1 percent could pay for an additional 30 police officers,

    It was only a matter of time until the politicians try the money grab and divert the proceeds to general fund purposes.

    HOW ABOUT RETURNING THE MONIES TO THEIR RIGHTFUL OWNERS..THE TAXPAYERS!!!!


  3. guest October 16, 2018 7:43 am

    Taxing people to buy land which removes it from the tax-rolls resulting in even higher taxes. Only in Hawaii.


    1. Debbie Hecht October 16, 2018 8:17 am

      This doesn’t increase your property taxes. This is only about 1.5% of the income that is received by the County. This makes the county budget a bit better. I have run my own business for 40 years and I can cut 1% pretty quickly by budgeting.


      1. guest October 16, 2018 9:07 am

        I’ve run my own business for about the same amount of time, 1% can be cut there but is in no relation to how governments are run. Government never cuts anything and if you look at this one and the history cut is not in their vocabulary. Another issue is they buy land and put up gates to keep the public out while taxpayers foot the bill.


    2. Debbie Hecht October 17, 2018 5:38 am

      Not true! Properties around open space and parks become more desirable and more valuable and therefore their taxes go up, which makes up for the vacant land (taxed at a lower rate) which is taken from the tax roles.


  4. Debbie Hecht October 16, 2018 8:05 am

    LEAVE THE 2% LAND FUND ALONE. There are 166 properties still to acquire. We voted on this 3 times with a 63% approval rate at the polls. Three times the people have voted 63% to approve the Land Fund: IN 2006 for the 2% Land Fund, again in 2010 after the last Charter Commission reduced it to 1% and again when it was put back to the 2% Land Fund by 63% of the people who voted on this measure. Many of you were not here for this process, please gain a historical perspective. Do you believe it the power at the polls three times. I assure you that these lands build community and bring people together. These lands are what makes our island one of the most beautiful places in the world. These lands support our tourism and our family recreation.
    PLEASE LEAVE THE 2% LAND FUND ALONE.

    WHY IS THERE $19 million in the Fund? Why isn’t this money being spent as approved by voters 3 times? It is part of the Hawaii County Charter. Is this why the Charter Commission wants to put a cap on the fund? There are still 166 properties to be acquired which were proposed by citizens for acquisition to the PONC Commission. WHY ISN’T THE KIM ADMINISTRATION DOING THEIR JOB?

    NO SALE ON PUBLIC LANDS- only 12 properties have been purchased. These are for the use and enjoyment by the citizens of the County of Hawaii in perpetuity. The county can apply for grants or financial assistance in management from the State or Federal Government via Memorandums of
    Understanding (MOU).

    QUICK HISTORY OF THE LEGISLATION FROM 2005 to 2016: Debbie Hecht, Campaign Coordinator since 2005 of the Save Our Lands Citizens’ Committee

    The Save Our Lands Citizen’s Committee collected almost 10,000 signatures from April to July of 2006. The County Clerk-Connie Kiriu and County Counsel- Lincoln Ashida disqualified almost 6,000 signatures for leaving off the year (signatures were collected from April to July) and leaving off Pl., St. or Rd.
    The County Council decided to place the ballot measure on the ballot for 2006. Despite the County Counsel submitted ballot language with confusing verbiage containing double negatives, the amendment to the Code passed by 56% of voters who voted on the issue as part of the Hawaii County Code.
    2008- Mayor Kenoi suspended deposits to the Fund for two years as the first piece of legislation submitted after he took office. We pointed out that there were more than 260 funded but unfilled job in his budget, but he failed to reinstate payments to the 2% Land Fund.
    2010- Charter Commission put on the ballot as the 1% Land Fund- again passed by 63% of voters who voted on the measure. We urged supporters to vote for this, so that money will still get deposited to the fund.
    2012- In order to honor all the people who signed the petitions and helped with this effort over the years we had it back on the ballot as a Charter amendment and passed by 63% of voters along with a 1/4% Maintenance Fund.
    The Maintenance Fund was modified in 2016 to allow the Open Space Commission to review Stewardship Grants and to recommend what grants to approve to the Director of Finance.


  5. Debbie Hecht October 16, 2018 8:08 am

    THere are 166 properties proposed for acquisition by citizens. The Kim administration has bought nothing. They are stockpiling the money to take it after 63%of us voted 3 times to set this money aside. During the 10 years he has been in office he has purchased 1 property. Actions speak louder than words. Please remember that the Charter Commissioners are appointed by Mayor Kim and do not represent the view or demographic of the island.


    1. KonaLife October 16, 2018 8:16 am

      Kim’s appointed Commissioners are displaying a level of arrogance and undemocratic hubris that is simply mind-boggling. The people of Hawaii County voted for 2% to go into PONC fund, so why should a few appointed cronies of Mayor Kim have any say in changing this amount? It’s undemocratic and insulting to the island residents.


      1. Debbie Hecht October 16, 2018 10:26 am

        Exactly right.


    2. 4whatitsworth October 16, 2018 10:03 am

      This seems like politics as usual..

      Step 1: Raise base tax money to go to a good cause and improve the resources that we use like open space, education, police, new roads, parks, etc.

      Step 2: Use the money to pay for over inflated public salaries, benefits, retirement, unions slush, and crony social programs.

      Step 3: Raise fees on the stuff that we actually use because all the tax resources have been redirected.

      Step 4: Repeat and rally political emotions to energize the uneducated and blame oriented crowd.

      I hope that everyone notices that there is no discussion here of where the other 98% of property taxes have gone..


      1. Debbie Hecht October 16, 2018 10:27 am

        Right you are! Let’s look for funded but unfilled jobs.


      2. KonaLife October 16, 2018 10:28 am

        I think your mostly right on this. The 2% fund was a way for island residents to create a dedicated fund for buying and preserving land. It’s not much–only 2%–but voters wanted to make sure there were funds to be exclusively for land preservation.

        We voted for this.

        That’s why it’s so disrespectful to residents when Mayor KIm and his appointed Commission want to find ways to change what has already been decided and voted for.

        Yes, focus on the other 98% and let island residents have, without restriction, what we voted for: 2% to protect and preserve special spaces.


  6. onceawarrior October 16, 2018 11:59 am

    IMO, the philosophy of preserving lands for public purposes is questionable at best.
    People who already have and know are in favor of this vision.
    Hoopla helps.
    BTW, the State already owns lots of land which can be used or traded.
    Property taxes is a poor alternative.


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