Kauai sues itself
over property tax change
The unusual move seeks to
invalidate a 2004 ballot measure
LIHUE » Kauai County will go to court tomorrow and sue itself -- an attempt to void a vote by an overwhelming majority of the county's voters to roll back owner-occupied residential property tax bills.
By a vote of 13,082 to 8,354, Kauai voters approved on Nov. 2 a change to the County Charter that freezes residential property taxes at 1999 levels and allows a maximum of only a 2 percent increase in tax bills each year.
In 1999, the housing boom began on Kauai, and home prices -- and thus property taxes -- began to skyrocket.
The measure was placed on the ballot by a group calling itself Ohana Kauai. The group noted that both tax collections and county spending had increased 50 percent since 1999.
It was strongly opposed by both Mayor Bryan Baptiste and the Kauai County Council.
In an unusual move, Kauai County in October filed an action seeking a Circuit Court ruling on the legality of the ballot item.
The county did not ask the court to take the measure off the ballot. And the case listed Kauai County as the plaintiff but named no defendant.
The county then amended its complaint to name Baptiste and the County Council as the defendants.
In a motion for summary judgment to be argued tomorrow before Judge George Masuoka, the county will contend the ballot item violates the state Constitution, which gives the counties total power over property taxes.
It also will argue that the measure violates the County Charter by interfering with the Council's ability to formulate a budget.
Ohana Kauai has argued that the measure merely shifts some of the tax burden from homeowners to other property owners, mostly businesses. The Charter amendment does not limit the total amount of property tax the county can collect and spend, only the amount that can be collected from homeowners, the group claims.
At a previous hearing on Nov. 22, Ohana Kauai was not allowed to argue its case because it was not incorporated and thus not a legal entity that could participate in the case. Since then, four of its members have been granted status as intervenors.
Harold Bronstein, attorney for the four intervenors, last week filed a motion to dismiss the case that also will be heard tomorrow by Masuoka. Bronstein argues that the lawsuit is so flawed that it should be thrown out.
First, he noted in his motion, the County Attorney's Office is in the impossible position of representing both the plaintiff and the defendants.
He then noted that the defendants were openly opposed to the Charter amendment during the election campaign -- they paid for advertisements saying so -- making them a very unlikely group to argue that it should remain on the books.