Council OKs tax break on land received as royal gift
The City Council unanimously approved a bill yesterday that would give a property tax break to the owners of kuleana lands, parcels that were awarded to native tenant farmers by the kingdom of Hawaii in 1850.
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs said that without the tax exemption, native Hawaiian kuleana landowners could be forced off their ancestral lands because they cannot afford to pay rising property tax bills.
"To you it is money; to Hawaiians it is about our existence," testified Dawn Wasson of Laie, whose family members have lived on their 13-acre kuleana agriculture parcel for generations.
Wasson said her family currently owes $32,000 in property taxes from years 2004 to the present. Her annual tax bills have ranged from $11,000 to $15,000 a year in recent years as her property value shot up threefold to $750,000.
Kuleana landowners on residential or agricultural zoned properties would qualify to pay the minimum annual tax -- currently $100 -- if they can verify being a descendant of the original title holder. The measure takes effect July 1, 2008.
The financial impact to the city is unknown because the number of kuleana parcels on Oahu is also unknown, officials said.
OHA trustee Rowena Akana estimated the number of parcels at below 25. According to OHA, kuleana claims equaling 28,000 acres statewide were issued by 1855, but the number of parcels dwindled for various reasons over the last 150 years.
Councilman Charles Djou said, "I think the policy is we don't want those people to lose those lands because of taxes. But if there is a family that has a multimillion-dollar worth, why are we giving them a tax break?"
Bill 25 (2006) now goes to Mayor Mufi Hannemann.