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Complaint challenges residency of candidate

August 1, 2014 - 11:59am

A complaint alleging Hawaii County Council District 5 candidate Tiffany Edwards Hunt does not qualify to run in the Puna mauka election will not receive a formal ruling since it was filed after the June 10 deadline for candidate objections.

Still, the complaint, which claims Edwards Hunt can’t run in the district since she receives a homeowner’s tax exemption for a house in Hilo, would not appear to disqualify her from running or holding the position.

When such complaints arise, County Clerk Stewart Maeda said the issue is whether a candidate lives in the district in which he is running. To establish that, the county looks at a candidate’s physical residence, not necessarily where he receives certain tax breaks.

Though Maeda was not commenting specifically on the complaint against Edwards Hunt, he said such a situation would likely be more of an issue for tax collectors than the county elections division, which he oversees.

“Hypothetically, it could have been an error on their part,” he said. “They really do live in the district, they just didn’t change their homeowner’s exemption.”

The complaint was filed Monday by Sativa Sultan after Edwards Hunt was questioned about the tax exemption at a candidate forum over the weekend. Sultan shares a home with RJ Hampton, who is also running for the District 5 seat.

Maeda responded Wednesday to the complaint, saying he couldn’t render a decision since the deadline for complaints had passed.

At another candidate forum Saturday, Hampton left following an outburst in which she berated Edwards Hunt for hosting a “roast” that poked fun at candidates and for election coverage in the Big Island Chronicle. Edwards Hunt publishes the newspaper but said she has handed over editorial control to someone else while running for election.

“Really, I just feel like all of this is really reaching,” Edwards Hunt said Thursday. “They are trying to drag me through the mud.”

She said she didn’t believe she was violating elections or tax laws.

The homeowner’s exemption provides a tax break for owner-occupied properties by reducing their tax assessment.

To qualify, a homeowner must live in the residence for at least 200 days a year.

The Hawaiian Acres resident has owned the home on Kaikuono Street in Hilo since 2004 and moved to her current house around 2006, which her husband owns. He does not claim an exemption.

County tax records show Edwards Hunt has claimed the homeowner’s tax exemption since she bought the home.

Edwards Hunt said she believes she has met the requirement “at times” over the years as she has occasionally stayed there.

It’s also been used as a rental when not used by her or her family, she said.

Edwards Hunt said she wasn’t aware the tax break was still in effect and that she might be receiving a discount while not meeting the qualifications.

“It’s all been part of my mortgage,” she said. “I’ve never really been fully cognizant of the rules related to it.”

The tax exemption renews itself automatically unless changed by the owner.

Edwards Hunt was one of numerous property owners who received letters from the county this year asking for their exemption status to be clarified.

She said she removed the exemption after receiving the letter, which the county’s Real Property Tax Division confirmed. The change goes into effect next year.

“I’m just trying to be as honest and karmatically correct” as possible, Edwards Hunt said.

The home is tenant occupied and listed for sale.

Stan Sitko, Real Property Tax Division administrator, said the county’s goal is to get homeowners to update their status and a penalty won’t be issued for those who come into compliance.

Email Tom Callis at