HILO — Hawaii County did not solicit bids when it leased a vacant building in Pahoa to three community groups for $1 a year, even as it paid $22,000 a year for a County Council district office in a local shopping center.
The community groups’ lease to the former Pahoa Police Station expired Monday, and county Property Manager Ken Van Bergen said the county is proceeding with plans to move the council district office to that facility.
“The occupying nonprofit lessees were a good use of the space while the administration found suitable county tenants, but that situation is about to change,” Van Bergen said.
But Puna Councilman Greggor Ilagan, who took office Dec. 3, said he hasn’t yet decided where his office will be. He said he’s currently on a month-to-month lease at the shopping center, something that could be made more permanent or canceled.
“It’s not a done deal yet. We haven’t made a decision,” Ilagan said. “I want to make sure that everyone is being treated fairly and not left in the dust.”
Ilagan said several of the community groups have told him they don’t want to move, nor do they want to share the space with his office. He said he’s meeting with the administration Wednesday to see what can be done, adding the groups perform valuable community services.
Van Bergen said the county did not need to seek competitive bids on the approximately 1,200-square-foot building because it was renting it to nonprofit organizations. But none of the three groups — Kokua Pahoa Weed and Seed, Men of Paa and Kanaka O Puna — is listed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service as a bona fide nonprofit organization.
Kokua Pahao Chairwoman Madie Green told West Hawaii Today on Monday that the group is awaiting its IRS certification, after applying for nonprofit status “three or four months ago.” The lease for the police station was first signed June 24, 2011, with an amended lease signed Feb. 6 of last year.
“Right now, this is the only place available for us right here in Pahoa,” Green said.
Deputy Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela said it’s up to the departments to verify tax-exempt nonprofit status when signing leases. He couldn’t tell Monday whether standard operating procedures had been complied with or what documents were used to verify information because many employees were off for the holiday.
Van Bergen said the Pahoa Police Station is just one of several facility changes going on as the county continues trying to consolidate space to save money. He said agencies moving out of the Kohanaiki warehouse in Kona will save another $88,000 in annual leases. The county has eliminated more than $1 million in lease payments in the past three years, he said.
A 2009 West Hawaii Today analysis showed the county was spending more than $3 million a year to rent office space. The opening of the West Hawaii Civic Center and the reopening of the refurbished county building in Hilo have contributed to lowering the county’s annual lease burden.
“The administration has been proactively cancelling leases as they expire,” Van Bergen said.