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Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald file photo A woman buys a papaya from a vendor on Dec. 21 at the Hilo Farmers Market in downtown Hilo.
A proposed improvement district for downtown Hilo received more pushback Friday at the end of a public outreach period.
Friday evening, the Hawaii County Council held the conclusion to a public meeting that began Feb. 8, where Hilo residents and business owners expressed concerns about the possibility of a the formation of a Downtown Hilo Business Improvement District.
Modeled after a similar district in Kailua-Kona, the Downtown Hilo BID would allow member businesses to fund infrastructure maintenance and upgrades through assessments levied against member parcels — according to Bill 230, the bill proposing the district, those assessments would be at the rate of $1.50 per $1,000 of “total net taxable value.”
But business owners at both the Feb. 8 and Friday hearings feared those assessments would be the straw to break the camel’s back.
“It’s too much,” said Karen Hotniansky. “We’ve had one shock after another. We had years of COVID, and then last year our taxes went up. Our taxes went up by 100%.”
Hotniansky said that if business owners are asked to pay additional fees on top of higher taxes, many will be forced to close down.
Stan Lawrence, owner of Orchid Land Surf Shop, said the BID, if it is formed, should be funded through grants and donations, not through fees on member businesses.
“We’re paying all these taxes, we need to see results from them,” Lawrence said.
While testifiers acknowledged that downtown Hilo is in sore need of improvement, many were critical that the bill would put the onus of solving the town’s problems onto business and property owners instead of county administration.
However, the testimony wasn’t all negative. Rhonda Nichols, owner of the Hilo Burger Joint, said she welcomed the proposal because previous attempts to improve downtown, such as the Downtown Improvement Association, lacked the teeth, funding and standing to get results.
“Yes, our taxes went up, but so did our property values,” Nichols said, adding that empowering business owners to improve the area will help keep downtown from being overrun by chain businesses and gentrification.
Nimr Tamimi, a member of the BID steering committee, urged the council to extend the decision-making process for Bill 230 so that the proposal can be fine-tuned more.
Because the meeting was held solely to receive public testimony, it concluded without any decision made.
The County Council will next discuss the matter at its next normal meeting on March 8.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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