Fewer protest KauaisBy Anthony Sommer
gentleman farms bill
LIHUE -- A bill aimed at raising property taxes by more than 1,000 percent on about 300 "gentleman farms" on Kauai drew only a handful of speakers at a County Council hearing yesterday.
Mayor Maryanne Kusaka is backing repeal of tax breaks for bogus farms as a means of increasing county tax revenues. It is aimed at the owners of upscale country estates, most of them on the north shore, who pay virtually no taxes on large tracts of land because they grow a few banana plants or graze polo ponies.
Yesterday's session was in marked contrast to the bill's first outing last spring at which a roomful of legitimate farmers vocally opposed the measure saying the county was demanding too much to prove they operate real farms.
County Assessor Steve Hunt said compromises with the farming community were hammered out at closed-door sessions during the summer. The amended bill says, in essence, that if it looks like a real farm it will get the tax breaks.
Opposition from legitimate farmers killed an identical attempt to repeal the tax break six years ago.
Hunt said fellow assessors in Hawaii's other three counties all have told him they want to do the same thing and are watching how his efforts go.
County officials estimate a repeal of the tax break will increase tax revenues by $1.2 million annually.
Not a single gentleman farmer has shown up at a meeting or written a letter to protest the proposed repeal.
"They had a nice ride and they finally got caught," Hunt said.
Taxes on residential and commercial property are based on the market value of the land. Taxes on agricultural land are based on the value of the crops or livestock it can produce.
The annual county tax on a small $100,000 residential parcel is $543. The tax on an acre of pasture land is 68 cents.
Amfac/JMB supported the repeal of the tax break for bogus farmers but objected to a companion bill that requires farmers to sign a dedication agreement with the county promising to use their land for farming for 10 years.
Amfac has 1,700 acres of undedicated land up for sale. If the bill passes, it will owe the county $27,000, said Richard Edsall, chief operating officer of Amfac Sugar Hawaii.
One of the few opponents to speak was longtime Kauai developer-farmer Mike Dyer, who said he will be forced to sell his papaya farm because he cannot gamble on a 10-year dedication.
"That land is my retirement fund and I may want to sell it sooner than 10 years," he said.