Fuel tax increase has its benefits

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Higher fuel taxes that began this month are expected to generate an additional $4.6 million for the rest of the fiscal year, according to a report from the Hawaii County Department of Public Works.

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Higher fuel taxes that began this month are expected to generate an additional $4.6 million for the rest of the fiscal year, according to a report from the Hawaii County Department of Public Works.

Of that, $1.7 million will be used for road paving projects while another $1 million will benefit the county’s Hele-On bus service. The extra funds also will be spent on school safety projects, an emergency/disaster fund, signal upgrades, union-negotiated wage and benefit increases, and equipment.

The County Council, which mandated the report when it approved large tax increases in June, will review the document Tuesday during a Finance Committee meeting.

The county’s fuel tax increased Aug. 1 from 8.8 cents per gallon — the lowest in the state — to 15 cents, and is scheduled to go even higher.

In the 2019-20 fiscal year, the county’s tax will be 23 cents per gallon, when it matches Maui County’s current fuel tax rate, which is the state’s highest.

Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung said he hasn’t heard much about the issue from constituents since the fuel tax hikes started, noting they are more likely to comment about recent property tax increases.

“I think most people realize the benefits of the increase in a fuel tax,” he said. “Particularly, when you compare our rate (to others in the state), it was overdue.”

For the July 2017 through June 2018 fiscal year, the county projected receiving $8.36 million in fuel tax revenue, according to its budget. The fuel tax increase might require a budget amendment.

Public Works Director Frank De Marco couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

The report lists 14 paving projects around the island, though it’s not clear how many were already planned or how much each project would get because of the increase.

Those projects are:

South Hilo

• Waianuenue Avenue to Ka‘iulani Street (projected start: January).

• Kamehameha Avenue (projected start: March).

Hamakua

• Kukuihaele Road (projected start: March).

• Old Mamalahoa Highway in Ahualoa (projected start: May).

Puna

• Kipimana Street (projected start: February).

• Government Beach Road from Wa‘awa‘a to Kapoho (projected start: April).

Ka‘u

• Wakea Avenue from Kamoamoa Road to Kialua Street (projected start: March).

South Kona

• Old Mamalahoa Highway (projected start: February).

• Napo‘opo‘o Road (projected start: May).

North Kona

• Lunapele Street (projected start: February).

• Hina Lani Street to Ane Keohokalole Highway (projected start: April).

South Kohala

• Saddle Road (projected start: January).

• Kamamalu Street from Highway 19 to Kamanawa Street (projected start: May).

North Kohala

• Kapa‘au Road (projected start: April).

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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How the additional $4.6 million will be spent

Road paving: $1.7 million

Mass transit: $1 million

Signal upgrades: $520,000

Equipment: $490,000

Wage and benefit increases: $330,000

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Emergency fund: $300,000

School safety projects: $260,000

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