HILO — Impact fees for West Hawaii schools — a state law largely ignored for almost three years — will be postponed a little longer following a heated, but ultimately fruitless, discussion Tuesday by the County Council Planning Committee.
The committee postponed a resolution urging Mayor Billy Kenoi to implement the 2010 law requiring impact fees in West Hawaii to pay for school expansion and construction. The impact fee district covers an area from Kawaihae to Kealakekua Bay that would include Waimea. Maui and Leeward Oahu are also subject to the law.
Kenoi, who opposes the fee, has blocked its collection. He’s said large developers already contribute as part of land use reclassifications before the state Land Use Commission, meaning the burden would fall on small lot owners. He has also noted the county was not represented in the working group establishing the districts, and he added the DOE’s own lists don’t show West Hawaii schools in the top 15 most needed facilities.
“This is just a fundamentally unfair bill,” Kenoi told West Hawaii Today after the meeting. “Why does a person who builds a home here pay a penalty and nobody else does?”
Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille, who sponsored the resolution, bristled at questions from Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida about the timing and motivation of her resolution and whether she was asked to sponsor it by a third party. She cited her background in education and law as spurring her interest in the topic, adding she attended meetings in 2010 about it.
“I want to start with the issue of the rule of law and respect for the law,” Wille said. “If you don’t like a law, you work to change it, but you don’t disregard it. That breeds disrespect for the law.”
Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha doesn’t like what he sees as the discriminatory nature of the law.
“It just doesn’t seem fair that these impact districts are based only on certain counties and certain districts,” Kanuha said. “We work as an island, we work as a state.”
Puna Councilman Greggor Ilagan seemed more amenable. He said he sees transportation, public safety and education as the top priorities of local government.
“Other counties, they help out their schools,” Ilagan said. “I’m a strong advocate for education, and I really want to help out our schools.”
Wille ultimately agreed to a postponement after receiving assurances that Kenoi’s administration and the state Department of Education are working out an agreement.
But a DOE representative at the meeting said his agency supported the resolution. Jeremy Kwock, DOE land use planner, wasn’t aware of any recent communications with Kenoi’s administration. Kenoi said he’s been talking with Brian DeLima, a member of the Board of Education from Hawaii County, and other officials, although he couldn’t say when he last spoke with them.
The Board of Education adopted the West Hawaii Impact District April 15, 2010.
“Since then, the DOE has made several unsuccessful attempts to engage the County of Hawaii with regard to the implementation of the West Hawaii Impact District,” DOE Public Works Manager Kenneth Masden II said in written testimony sent Friday to the council.
“The DOE would appreciate the county’s cooperation in effectively instituting the West Hawaii Impact District in a manner that is least disruptive to the public and to county staff,” Masden added.
The impact fees, to be collected as part of the county building permit process and turned over to the state, would add $2,350 to the cost of building a single-family home and $1,436 to the cost of an apartment or condo unit. The money has to be spent in the district where the money was raised.
Maui has collected $380,461 for schools over the past two years and Oahu will soon be implementing the law, Wille said.
“We are so broken right now, you can’t compare us to Maui,” said Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Pondexter.
She asked what the ramifications are for disregarding the law or the council’s resolution.
“Will we put the mayor in prison?” she asked.
Ashida urged the council to postpone the issue. He said the state could, as a last resort, file a complaint with the court to force compliance.
“I don’t believe the County of Hawaii has been what is characterized as ignoring this issue. … This has been something the state and the administration has been dialoguing about. … The council may not have been aware of what’s going on behind the scenes,” Ashida said. “I don’t think anyone is going to go to jail.”