We are being told that just half the yearly tax revenue dedicated to the land fund will make all the difference for a balanced budget and provide all the perquisites that had gone missing the last decade or so. This is as the county budget has grown by about 40 percent to over a half-billion dollars during the current administration’s tenure, just as it did in its former tenure from 2000 to 2008.
Armed with the fear-mongering approach so common in today’s politics, the administration claims if this revenue grab is not passed, your real estate taxes will increase. Really? They already have; as has the gas tax, the GET, landfill, water, sewer and other assorted fees. And they will continue to do so. This is from a county that has so much cash from a single enterprise that it spills out the safe door and overflows onto a break-room table and with such sloppy accounting that an audit cannot even tell if any is missing.
Oh, and don’t forget the fine print. The county wants to be able to sell the purchased land to a developer at what assuredly would be less than economic fair value — a developer who will never build sufficient affordable housing let alone other infrastructure promised but never delivered so your tax dollars pay the tab. It also sounds inviting to be told the money can be used for a natural disaster relief fund. What happened to the funds already sequestered for that purpose?
We are also told this revenue grab would allow the county to hire 30 more policemen when it cannot even achieve a fully funded retirement trust for those already employed. We are told that the land fund in Hawaii County is greater than in any other county. Good. Something was done right. This county does have the greatest land area.
It isn’t surprising that this land-fund grab is contemplated by the administratively appointed and County Council approved Charter Commission. This administration, demonstrating distorted reasoning, tries to assuage voters by saying land can be purchased by issuing bonds. Your taxes would increase to pay the bond interest, the county is about maxed out in issuing bonds before its rating will drop causing higher interest rates, and interest paid over a 30-year term could easily double the cost of the land. There seems to be an insidious ploy at work here. This administration does not release the accumulating land funds for land already identified for purchase but instead lets it accumulate to fabricate the point that the percentage collected is too high.
Balancing the county budget is not within the Charter Commission’s purview but that is the administration’s mandate. If it wants to include that responsibility, then the commission must not make the decision in a budgetary vacuum. The real budgetary solution is simply all-around government efficiency. But that takes effort. The lazy approach is just to collect more money and care little about waste, fraud and abuse.
The minuscule revenue amount dedicated now to the land fund promises to provide for the environmental future of the island. The administration money grab promises to provide for unsustainable development. The best course to follow is to let the land fund stand as is; it is by far economically more beneficial to the county.
The voters will probably be forced to make a decision again but they should also include a voting strategy to cast out those elected officials who care more about short-term greed than efficiency and long-term righteousness for the residents’ quality of life now and for generations to come. What is your choice?
Mike Reimer is a resident of Kailua-Kona.