Hawaii County Council Member Brenda Ford has a bill coming up Tuesday before the Finance Committee to allocate ¼ of 1% of property taxes to a fund to be used for maintenance of property purchased under the County’s Open Space Preservation plan.
According to County Property Manager Ken Von Bergen, the County has spent around $10 million so far to purchase around 400 acres since the Open Space Land Fund was established in 2006, and 550 more acres are in escrow now. Purchases include the Waipio Valley Lookout and property at Kawa in Ka’u, plus parcels in South Kohala at Pao’o and Kaiholena. The property in escrow is additional land at Kawa. Von Bergen said the program is relatively new, but it is important to establish a maintenance plan and funds. Maintenance could be more active—as in the Waipio Valley Lookout—or may merely include fencing, signage, etc.
Ford says the ¼ of 1% would amount to around $500,000 annually. And there’s a cap—if the amount in the maintenance fund exceeds $3 million, it would revert to the open space purchase fund. As far as how it would be funded, Ford says there are options: cut expenses elsewhere, use monies out of the surplus funds which Mayor Kenoi indicated are $10 million more for last fiscal year than anticipated, or cut one of the luxury programs such as the golf subsidies for East and/or West Hawaii, which amount to close to $1 million. But Ford says she thinks there is sufficient funding existent now.
Ford’s bill, if it passes the finance committee, would go to the full Council and then on to the electorate as a Charter Amendment. She says she set it up as a Charter Amendment to ensure that no future Council or future Mayor could abolish the fund or raid it, as happened with other allocated monies in the past.
The bill will be heard Tuesday, November 1 before the Finance Committee at 1;30 p.m. Citizens may testify at West Hawaii Civic Center, Aupuni Center in Hilo, or at Waimea County Council Office.