Tuesday | December 12, 2017
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3 percent increase in property values could stave off tax hikes

Property values are averaging about 3 percent higher than last year, giving Hawaii County government enough breathing room to create a no-frills budget without having to resort to increasing property taxes.

That’s according to Mayor Billy Kenoi, whose administration was putting the finishing touches Wednesday on its proposed spending plan. The early estimates form the first draft of the budget; final numbers won’t be known until late April, after the certified property values are computed.

“We are thankful that we have some increase,” Kenoi said. “A lot of that will go toward absorbing fixed costs.”

The slight property value increase follows a 7 percent increase last year, as the county pulled itself out of recession. It’s not yet known how much in property taxes individual homeowners might pay, but on average, taxes will increase slightly as property values go up.

Still, Kenoi said, he’s hopeful there will be room for a “small expansion of services,” such as adding vehicle registration services in Waimea, where two Department of Motor Vehicles clerks will supplement the driver license services at the police station.

Kenoi plans to submit his preliminary budget to the County Council by Friday. The council will undertake a line-by-line scrutiny of the budget with each county department April 22-24. The mayor then submits an amended budget May 5 that takes into account the certified property values.

Council Chairman Dru Kanuha praised the county for keeping a tight fiscal budget that probably won’t require tax hikes.

“To me, this is good fiscal management on the part of the administration and the council,” he said. “The administration has been trying to make sure that all the vital services are there.”

He said the county has had its share of challenges, with natural disasters such as a looming lava flow making it necessary to keep some money aside for emergencies.

“I only hope that we won’t have to be going through a tax increase,” Kanuha said.

The council has until June 30, the last day of the fiscal year, to pass a budget or the mayor’s budget automatically goes into effect July 1.

Last year’s budget, Kenoi’s first budget hike since taking office in 2008, was $416.9 million, or 5.7 percent higher than the previous year. It added 10 new positions and included raises for almost all county employees, union and nonunion alike.

More than $20 million of the $22.6 million increase went for employee raises and increases in benefits.

The total value of net taxable real property last year, at $25.2 billion, was $1.7 billion more than in 2013-14, a 7 percent increase.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.


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