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Thursday, November 2, 2000



City & County of Honolulu

Property tax exemptions
for seniors still intact


By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Star-Bulletin

Homeowners 55 and over can relax -- their multiple property tax exemptions will remain intact.

Single-family homeowners, however, may soon need to pay more property taxes and condominium and apartment owners less, under a plan moved out of the City Council's Budget Committee yesterday.

The committee killed a bill that would have eliminated major savings in real property taxes for senior citizens and provided tax credits for lower income homeowners of all ages.

Budget Chairwoman Rene Mansho said there was not enough support on the Council to move the so-called circuit-breaker plan, which prompted outrage from senior citizens who were unhappy that they could lose their exemptions.

Several came to the committee meeting to oppose the measure.

Currently, all who own and live in a home receive a $40,000 exemption.

Senior citizens get additional considerations. Those 55 to 59 get a total exemption of $60,000; those 60 to 64 get $80,000; those 65 to 69 get $100,000; and those 70 and older get $120,000.

Budget Director Roy Amemiya said each $20,000 exemption represents about $74 per household, so the additional exemptions represent as much as $292 annually for some homeowners.

Questions were also raised about enforcement of the eligibility requirements for a circuit breaker.

Bill 60 would have allowed only those homeowners with an adjusted household gross income below 80 percent of Honolulu's median to qualify for the tax credit.

"This bill is dead," Mansho said after the meeting. "In polling my colleagues, I don't know anybody who's supporting repealing the multiple exemptions."

Mansho said Council members still want to find a means to assist those homeowners on low, fixed incomes who may be struggling to pay their property taxes.

The committee did, however, move out a resolution that calls on all residential properties to fall under the same tax rate.

Such a scheme -- which, if approved as a resolution by the Council later this month, would still need to be approved in a bill next spring -- would likely result in property tax increases for single-family homeowners and decreases for those who own and live in condominiums and apartments.

According to one estimate, a single improved residential-condominium tax rate would have to be $3.90 for the same amount of revenues to be generated next year as this year.

Currently, single-family homeowners pay $3.65 per $1,000 of assessed value. Multi-family homeowners currently pay $4.49.

Islandwide, there are about 140,000 single-family homes and 90,000 condominiums, Amemiya said.

"We would be in favor of moving rates closer, and even a single rate, provided (single-family) homeowners are not hurt tremendously," he said.

Condominiums and single-family homes had the same rate for years. But that changed in fiscal 1998 when condominium valuations fell faster and the Council made a decision to increase condo tax rates more to keep up.

"We have been very concerned by the fact that the property tax rate for the last three years has been significantly higher than the rate for single family residences," said Richard Port, secretary of the Yacht Harbor Towers condominium.<



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