Council should lower
homeowner tax rates


The City Council's budget chairwoman says higher property assessments are not likely to result in an immediate lowering of tax rates.

HOUSING prices on Oahu have skyrocketed in the past year and without an adjustment of property tax rates will inflict an onerous burden on homeowners. The City Council's intention to overhaul the entire tax system later this year should not prevent it from relieving homeowners of exorbitant taxation in the meantime.

The median sales price of a single-family home on Oahu soared to $495,000 in December, nearly $100,000 more than a year earlier. That increase, when reflected in city property assessments, means a tax hike of nearly $375 for a home assessed at that value; the tax rate is $3.75 per $1,000 valuation, although lower for owner occupants according to a range based on the homeowners' ages.

In the past, the Council has altered the rate to adjust to the city's needs, but Ann Kobayashi, chairwoman of the Council's budget committee, says it is unlikely that the tax rate for the 2006 fiscal year, which begins July 1, will be adjusted. She indicates she is more focused on "a whole systems change ... so that this problem doesn't come up again."

It should not be that much of a problem. Mary Pat Waterhouse, the city budget director, says she would have to consider city expenditures to determine how much is needed from property taxes, the city's main source of revenue. She says it does not appear that the increased revenues based on the huge increase in housing prices will create any surplus.

That is hard to fathom, especially when considering Mayor Hannemann's campaign vow to limit the city's spending to necessities. The new mayor said he would conduct a two-month review of the city operations and finances upon taking office earlier this month.

The City Council vowed last year not to raise the tax rate for residential property. The enormous 26 percent rise in property tax assessments this year for single-family homes and condominiums instead should result in a lowering of the rate.


Driving is risky
while on cellphone


Driving while talking on hand-held cellphones is banned in some jurisdictions.

SEVERAL states are looking at New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., for the effects of their prohibitions against driving while talking on hand-held cellphones. Hawaii considered similar legislation two years ago but wanted more studies about the distraction caused by cellphone usage. The time is nearing for Hawaii to impose such a ban.

While more than 400,000 tickets and warnings have been issued for violating the ban since New York enacted the first such law in 2001, a consensus is building that the laws did not go far enough. Rae Tyson, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, says officials have "evaluated and come to the conclusion that hands-free use is just as risky or perhaps riskier than hand-held phones because it's the cognitive distraction that can compromise driving."

That assessment reflects the conclusion of researchers at the University of Utah, who determined in 2001 that cellphone conversation diverts the driver's attention into another context. It it much different from talking with a passenger in the car.

Users of cellphones agree that such calls divert their attention. A December 2003 survey by the Mid-Atlantic branch of AAA of America, the automobile owners organization, showed that 71 percent of drivers felt distracted using a cellphone.

Joseph Picchi, a spokesman for the New York Department of Motor Vehicles, says cellphones are "one of the bigger distractions while driving." He told The New York Times that he believes the law has had an effect but his department still is compiling statistics. A report is due by the end of this year.

Violations of the Washington and New York laws are primary violations, which means the driver can be pulled over just for that violation. In New Jersey, it is a secondary offense, which means the driver must be stopped for another offense in order to be cited for violating the cellphone ban.

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