County Council Update
LET’S START WITH THE FUN STUFF: On Saturday, Feb. 6 at the Waimea Cherry Blossom Festival, my office is partnering with the North Kohala, Waimea and Waikoloa Senior Citizen Clubs to host the Third Annual Cherry Pie Bake- Off event. The clubs submit cherry pies for the judges to rank the top three pies and award prizes. If you would like to support one of these clubs by submitting a cherry pie, please do so. Otherwise join the fun, watch the judging at noon and then share in the pie tasting.
A TALE OF A COUNTY AND A STATE: We as members of the Council will soon be facing major county budget choices. The Mayor’s initial proposed budget will be distributed on March 1. After property taxes, our second highest revenue source is from Transient Accommodation Tax (TAT) revenue. Our visitor population pays the lion’s share of these taxes on hotel and other short-term rentals.
Back in the early 90s when this TAT program began, the counties received 95 percent of this tax revenue, with the State receiving 5 percent for its administration of the program. The reasoning was it is the counties that bear the majority of the burden of services needed by the visitor population. Since then, State legislators have taken these revenues for their select projects, including most recently to help pay for the Turtle Bay Easement on Oahu and to cover the cost of beach sand replenishment at Waikiki. Even worse, the State legislators placed a cap on the maximum amount available to the counties, with the counties now dividing up some 23 percent of the revenues collected. Since 2009, the State’s share rose over 2000 percent and the counties share increased by about 2 percent. To address this conflict, the State legislature set up a State-County Working Group, which has now submitted its report to the legislature recommending removal of the cap and raising the counties’ share somewhat. Yet, even that recommendation is being opposed by the governor and some legislators.
VOICING CONCERNS ABOUT THE POLICE DEPARTMENT: On Feb. 2 the Council will discuss concerns about the police department. We have an exceptional County police department, but where there are concerns need to be addressed. For example, what training is our police force receiving to respond to any terroristic threats or “active shooter” incidents? What systems are in place to ensure that confiscated drugs are properly handled? And how does the department work with Neighborhood Watch groups?
AGRICULTURAL TOURISM BILL 116: My ag-tourism bill will again be heard on Feb. 2. The principle mission of this legislation is to provide small farming operations the opportunity to engage in ag-tourism without overburdening them with unnecessary regulations and permitting expenses. Following further Council consideration, this bill will be forwarded to the planning director and the planning commission for their input. Suggested amendments to the bill include an absolute prohibition against any ag-tourism operation in Waipio Valley.