Friday, January 29, 1999

Task force recommends
higher fees for bus,
garbage and golf

The goal is to help cover a $130 million
shortfall in the city's budget

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


If you ride a bus, drive a car, play golf or own a home, a budget task force has some bad news for you -- some $103 million worth of recommended fee increases.

The group failed, however, to find consensus on other ways for the city to meet a $130 million budget shortfall because it disagreed on whether to raise property taxes.

Mayor Jeremy Harris said after yesterday's meeting that he will consider the recommendations for possible inclusion into his budget submittal to the City Council on March 1.

Among the recommendations:

bullet Institute a garbage fee of $15 a month for all households now getting twice-a-week pickup. Task force members said it's unfair to charge apartment/condominium owners and commercial landowners, through their property taxes, for a service they don't receive. The administration has been mulling a charge of $1 to $2 per pickup.

bullet Increase motor vehicle fees -- the weight tax by 5 percent and registration by 20 percent.

bullet Increase bus fares. The recommendation called for adult fares to go from $1 to $1.50 and monthly adult passes from $25 to $35. Student fares would rise from 50 cents to 75 cents, monthly passes from $12.50 to $18. Harris made it clear after the meeting that raising bus fares is not something he favors since it could make it a financial burden for some to ride TheBus and increase cars on the road.

bullet Increase golf-related fees at most municipal courses. The weekend and holiday resident greens fee for adults and seniors would jump from $14 to $28. The weekday adult rate would go from $10 to $20. Rates at the Kahuku and Makalena courses would be lower until they are upgraded. Task force members said municipal rates would still be a bargain.

The disagreement among task force members was over real property taxes.

A subcommittee tasked with looking at fees suggested raising property tax rates next year to a level that would result in $40 million more in collection. The amount would be the same as that collected by the city in 1994.

But a separate subcommittee, designed to look at property taxes, recommended that property rates be raised only enough so that revenues would match the amount being collected this year.

Retired banker Jack Hoag, chairman of Hawaii Reserves Inc., backed the higher taxes. The financial impact on most homeowners would be softened because many have refinanced their homes at lower interest rates. They also likely received at least modest increases in salary, he said.

David Carey, president and chief executive officer of Outrigger Enterprises, said returning to the 1994 collections would have severe impacts on the visitor industry. He noted that hoteliers already pay higher property tax rates than other landowners and that they are additionally saddled with paying the transient accommodations tax (the so-called hotel room tax).

Several task force members pointed the finger at the state for not giving the city and other counties more means of raising revenue and suggested Harris continue lobbying at the Legislature.

"But I can't budget money that's not there," Harris said.

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