Property tax changes coming

  • A rooftop solar water heating system sits on a home on Halekii Street. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

HILO — Eliminating the solar water tax credit, reclassifying small agriculture lots to residential and repealing an obsolete program are three ways the county could generate revenue and make its property tax code more equitable, according to a report to be considered next week by the County Council.

In all, the county would see more than $1.3 million in revenue or savings annually by making adjustments to more than 20,000 lots.

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The Real Property Tax Review Working Group is making the recommendations in its third report to the council. The administration agrees with the recommendations, said county Real Property Tax Administrator Lisa Miura.

“Real Property Tax does view these changes as bringing consistency, fairness and equitability,” Miura said.

At least one solar equipment installer, John Collins with Kona-based ProSolar Hawaii, doesn’t see it that way, at least as far as the solar credit.

“I don’t understand what they’re trying to do,” Collins said Wednesday. “There’s plenty of people who don’t have solar water; electric bills are going crazy. Why does the county want to take away the incentive?”

The solar program, which started in 2008, offers a one-time, up to $300 credit off property taxes for those installing a solar water heater. It applies only to retrofitting existing homes, as all new buildings have been required to have solar hot water installed as of 2012.

The county will continue not assessing the value of solar water improvements when it applies property taxes, just as it does with photovoltaic cells for electricity, which carry no county tax credit, Miura said.

The group researched the possibility of creating a photovoltaic credit, but decided not to recommend a new tax credit, since photovoltaic improvements are also not assessed for property tax purposes, according to the report.

The solar property tax credit cost the county about $25,000 last year.

A second change will bring in much more.

Reclassifying small agriculture lots of less than 1 acre that aren’t doing agriculture and don’t have a preferential dedicated or non-dedicated ag use, or are in the homeowner class, could bring in an extra $1.3 million this year.

“There are properties under 1 acre of land that have been receiving the agricultural class tax rate when the highest and best use is residential,” Miura said. “Three meetings and a lot of discussion occurred over the agricultural zoning of a huge portion of this island while many of these parcels are clearly utilized as residential and have no intent of doing agriculture.”

Miura said the affected property owners will receive a letter in February and will see their tax classification change from agriculture to the higher residential tax rate this year. The current classifications are not applied consistently, leading to unfairness, she said. The tax office can make the change without a change in county code or council action.

“This is consistent with State Land Use Commission statutes which provide for the construction of single-family dwellings on lots existing before June 4, 1976,” the report states. “There are currently 19,604 parcels which will experience a tax class rate change. 6,665 will experience an increase in taxes with the remaining parcels not anticipated to be impacted by the recommendation.”

Property owners in the agricultural class pay $9.35 in tax for every $1,000 in property value, while those in the residential class pay $11.10 under current property tax rates.

A third recommendation would do away with a tax exemption program known as the “non-speculative residential” program, a move advocated by both the working group and the Real Property Tax Board of Review.

A 2008 law closed the program to new property owners, but those who were grandfathered into the 1958 program may have an unfair advantage over other property owners who can’t participate, Miura said. The program allows property owners to freeze their property value for five or 10 years by dedicating it to their own homestead use. The county’s homeowners property class and a homeowners exemption have taken the place of the program for all but 483 property owners.

Recommended steps include informing all owners currently with parcels in this program of the repeal for tax year 2019, allow all parcels currently in this program to automatically convert these parcels to the homeowner exemption program at the 2019 frozen value and explain the 3 percent cap would then be applied to the tax year 2020.

The impact to the real property tax revenue in tax year 2020 based on the current frozen non spec values would be $23,000 total. In addition, the county will save approximately $4,400 per year in staff time allocated to administering the program.

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The working group, made up of property owners and managers, general public and planners, with county staff support, was formed in 2017. Among its goals are to increase fairness, incorporate best practices into tax administration and propose additional tax programs. There is also a committee devoted to agricultural issues.

The council Finance Committee is scheduled to consider the recommendations at its 9:45 a.m. meeting Monday in Hilo, with videoconferencing to the West Hawaii Civic Center, the Waimea and Pahoa council offices, the old Kohala courthouse and the Naalehu state office building.

  1. KonaRich February 2, 2019 7:13 am

    Welcome to Hawaiifornia. We’re from the government and we’re here to help. Enjoy!!


  2. Bone Crusher February 2, 2019 7:34 am

    It’s goals are to “increase fairness”. Don’t you mean, find a way to increase taxes. I don’t see any of their proposals reducing taxes.


    1. reply to February 4, 2019 12:58 pm

      Property taxes are WEALTH TAXES. They don’t have anything to do with income. They are a form of NATIONALIZATION. If the nationalization takes place in few months, few years or 20 years is irrelevant. Nationalization is immoral – stealing people private property after they already paid taxes on their income (fair share) is not “FAIR”, regardless how you look at it. I don’t mind taxes on income. Taxes on property are totally immoral.


  3. Scooby February 2, 2019 8:19 am

    This is the Harry Kim way of increasing revenue to grow government. This is a weekly occurrence of him asking for more money to run the inefficient bloated county government. Remember, one year in to his term they all got 20-43% raises because they deserved it. So it would be fair to take it away now because they haven’t proved they deserve it.


    1. Nope February 2, 2019 8:07 pm

      Well we will get harsher traffic laws or restrictions, because some drunk driver on Oahu murdered pedestrians recently.


  4. J_Maritime February 2, 2019 10:18 am

    It makes no sense to eliminate the “one time only solar water heater tax credit” for retrofitting of existing homes. What is the point? To save the county $25,000? This is shortsighted on so many levels. The county should be encouraging it’s citizens to retrofit to solar hot water, not taking away the incentives. This is such a no brainer… maybe I just answered my own question.


  5. Nope February 2, 2019 8:01 pm

    The Kim gang need this to pay for their pensions and their 40% salary increases. More over Harry needs a special treat because he lost his property during the Volcano eruption.


  6. Sara Steiner-jackson February 3, 2019 10:49 am

    To eliminate the solar program is disingenous in a state trying to become self sufficient in the next decade.

    While you are thinking of ripping off all the AG-1 residents by turning them into residential, the county better make sure any changes are made only in subdivisions which meet the residential standards of DECENCY: paved roads, sidewalks, electricity, sewers, phone and internet.

    Residents living in substandard subdivisions on top of rift zones in lava zones 1 and 2 should get hazard deductions and lower tax brackets, as they do not get anywhere near their fair share of government services and they spend a good deal of their time and money just commuting to Hilo to purchase goods and services not provided in substandard areas.


    1. reply to February 4, 2019 1:02 pm

      I don’t agree with any property taxes. That being said, the taxes in substandard areas are already way lower than in the rich areas. Property taxes are percent of market value. In substandard areas the market value could be 1% of the Hualalai resort, therefore the low property taxes already reflect where the property is located.


  7. KonaDude February 4, 2019 3:57 am

    If they want to be fair, where is my EBT card(.Y.)


  8. oceanwatcher.com February 4, 2019 9:35 am

    What’s “fair” about denying working people an increase in the minimum wage but giving yourselves a huge pay increase? And shouldn’t energy efficiency be encouraged by converting to solar whenever and however possible? What’s in the Kool Aid these people are drinking?????? Is this the best “governance” we can hope for from these clowns?????


    1. reply to February 4, 2019 12:49 pm

      If you study economics you will understand that how much is the minimum wage is irrelevant. A minimum wage ALWAYS provides a minimum wage lifestyle. Maduro ( in Venezuela) last year offered a 3000% increase in minimum wage. Those people are not better off for it. I can argue that they are worse off because increases in minimum wage cause inflation. Inflation always affect the poor the most because it is the most REGRESSIVE forms of taxation. If you can not connect the dots, I would suggest to take a course in ECON 101. I can not do a lecture to explain the details. Just learn from the conclusion.


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