Wednesday, May 19, 1999


Maui residents question
Council’s proposed
tax increases

By Gary T. Kubota


WAILUKU -- Many residents on the Valley Isle aren't happy with tax increases planned by the Maui County Council.

"I think they're raising too much things. The average jobs just don't pay that much," said Abigail Sarasin, a Wailuku resident and security guard. "How come everything's going up and the employees' wages stay the same?"

Vergenciti Postrero, a Wailuku resident and certified nursing assistant, said she's opposed to the increases. "I have a hard time raising money. It will affect me a lot."

Residents were informally polled yesterday after the Maui County Council initially approved, upon introduction Monday, a $211.5 million budget that calls for a 6 percent increase in property tax rates and 16 increases or additions in fees.

Council members are scheduled to take a final vote May 28.

There's a staggered increase in rubbish pickup fees from $5 to $8 a month, an increase in driver's licenses from $10.50 to $18, and a 29 percent increase in residential sewer fees for those using 9,000 gallons of water a month.

Council members say their proposal is significantly less than Mayor James Apana's request for a $220.2 million budget that included a 38.6 percent increase in property tax rates.

"We did our jobs. We've tried our best," said Council Budget Chairman Wayne Nishiki.

Councilwoman Charmaine Tavares said she voted for the Council's budget because it was better than Apana's proposal but she felt grants to nonprofit groups "took more of a hit" than funding for county operations.

Tavares said the county's overhead, including payroll, fringe benefits and retirement payments, amount to about 65 percent of the county budget, far more proportionately than nonprofit groups' administrative costs.

"I don't think it's quite balanced," she said.

The county is facing a flat economy with little or no job growth, except for a slight increase in construction.

Property tax revenues reached their peak in 1994 at $78.8 million.

The closure of Pioneer Mill Co. later this year leaves Maui with only one sugar plantation.

The Council cut $3.5 million from Apana's $21.2 million construction budget and $5.4 million from his $199.2 operating budget.

Maui Hotel Association Executive Director Terryl Vencl said the increases will hurt the hotel industry more than the average person because the hotels already pay a higher property tax rate.

Joseph Pluta, president of the West Maui Taxpayers Association, said the Council "almost made it" as far as doing a good job and not raising taxes.

He said in the private sector, some companies have reduced their payroll and kept the same number of employees by reducing work hours.

"Do what everybody is doing in the economy: Live within your means," Pluta said.

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