Property tax task force finally in motion


The fifth time proved to be the charm Wednesday, when the County Council finally agreed on the makeup of a task force to make recommendations on revamping the county’s property tax code. The resolution, introduced in December, was debated at four previous council sessions before its unanimous vote.

Finance Director Nancy Crawford, a member of the new body, said she hopes to schedule the first meeting July 18. The county’s agriculture classification and exemptions are expected to be the first order of business.

The proposed task force is one of 40 recommendations in a 99-page March 2012 report by the International Association of Assessing Officers. A working group of former Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann and former Ka‘u Councilwoman Brittany Smart, along with top Finance Department officials and representatives from the public, prioritized the recommendations.

Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille had inherited the project from her predecessor, Hoffmann, who had convinced the council to pay $40,000 for the study.

In addition to Crawford and Wille, Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi is on the task force, as well as Real Property Tax Administrator Stan Sitko, Real Property Assistant Administrator Lisa Nahoopii, Deputy Corporation Counsel Ryan Kanakaole and three members of the public, one each to be selected by Wille, Onishi and Crawford.

“I’m just glad that we’re moving forward,” Wille said.

The amended resolution means that one proposed task force member, Hilo real estate agent Jan Mahuna, is no longer on the committee. Mahuna, along with Bob Price and Stewart Hussey, were introduced to the council at an earlier meeting as task force members.

Hussey, a Hilo real estate appraiser active on the Hilo Downtown Improvement Association, and Price, who like Mahuna was on the original working group, were retained on the task force.

Mahuna could not be reached Wednesday evening to comment on her appointment to the board and subsequent dismissal.

The controversy and delay came about when Onishi suggested changes to the makeup. First he suggested it have nine members of the public, one from each council district, in addition to representatives of the council and administration. Then other council members suggested it contain only representatives of the administration.

In particular, Onishi objected to three members of the public being named by Wille and Crawford to be on the task force. Wille said she selected people she knew would invest the time to get the work done, but other council members asked how she got to make all the appointments.

On Wednesday, Onishi announced that he had picked Yukio Takeya, owner of Ala Kai Realty in Hilo, as his private-sector representative.

“I feel that he’s going to do a great job for the county and the people,” Onishi said.

The task force will tackle discrepancies and perceived inequities in how the county values property for tax purposes and the rates applied to the property classifications. With nine property classifications and a variety of exemptions for everything from age to disability to length of ownership, the system has become so complex that property owners often have a hard time understanding it.