Council plans to override
Harris’ veto of tax-relief bill

Mayor Jeremy Harris has vetoed a bill designed to give temporary property tax relief to farmers and agricultural landowners who are facing soaring tax bills.

City & County of Honolulu "I have taken the only responsible action available to me by vetoing Bill 35," Harris wrote yesterday in his message to the Council.

But the Council replied by scheduling a special meeting for 11 a.m. Wednesday to override the veto.

At that meeting, the Council will also take up several measures aimed at a long-term fix for the agricultural land tax problem.

"The Council is trying to look for solutions. We want to protect farming and agriculture," said Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz, who is among those who have introduced measures to help make it easier for farmers to get the tax break.

In 2002 the City Council passed an ordinance that was supposed to impose a higher tax rate on agricultural lands not used for farming that were owned by "gentlemen farmers."

The city now appraises agricultural lands at fair market value. Owners pay taxes based on a certain percentage of the value depending on the length of time the land is dedicated to agriculture.

But farmers and large agricultural land owners who did not dedicate their land for agriculture on time saw their tax bills skyrocket.

Bill 35 would allow agricultural landowners to apply for what is called a tax compromise through the Department of Budget and Fiscal Services if the new tax bills are higher than last year's bill. The department would then pass those applications on to the Council for approval to keep taxes at the fiscal 2004 level.

In his veto message, the mayor said the bill:

>> Is legally unenforceable.
>> Undermines the integrity of the property tax assessment process.
>> Serves as a disincentive to using agricultural lands for agricultural production.
>> Produces an "absurd result" by preventing the budget director from negotiating compromises.
>> Will likely cause a $9.6 million in tax revenue loss, resulting in an unbalanced budget.

The mayor, who is out of town, has said previously that if the Council overrides his veto, he will not implement the legislation because city attorneys have deemed it illegal.

Dela Cruz said he hopes the administration will follow through with the bill if the override is successful. The Council also is looking at several measures aimed at a long-term fix.

Councilman Gary Okino introduced a bill yesterday that he says will help streamline the process for farmers to dedicate lands for agricultural use.

"This is a way to help farmers -- not owners of vacant land and people who are not farming," Okino said.

Some farmers are unable to dedicate their lands to get the tax breaks because they do not own the land.

Okino is proposing breaks for a one- or 10-year dedication for agricultural and pasture land and lessening the requirements for dedication.

The Council will also take up a resolution that calls for a task force to come up with more permanent solutions.


Panel approves proposed
Charter amendments

A City Council committee passed several proposed amendments to the City Charter yesterday that voters would consider during the Nov. 2 general election.

The Council's Executive Matters Committee moved forward a proposal that would convene the Charter Commission next year.

The Charter Commission could take up issues such as deciding whether the corporation counsel should be elected, whether the city should move to a biennial budget from an annual one and whether bus fares should be set by a body other than the City Council.

The committee also approved a proposed amendment that would give the city Ethics Commission the power to assess civil fines for violations of the ethics code.

Commission Executive Director Chuck Totto said the Ethics Commission favors the added power because it would deter unethical behavior. He also said that other jurisdictions have ethics panels that impose civil fines on violators.

The Ethics Commission's current powers are advisory, and its recommendations do not have to be carried out, Totto said.

The committee also gave the green light to a third proposed amendment, which would allow a temporary replacement for a Council member who is called to active military duty for more than 180 days.

The measures are up for a Council vote Aug. 11.


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