by Andrew Walden
In the last week of August, Ocean View residents gathered over 100 signatures against the Hawai`i County Council’s latest attempt to strangle agriculture and affordable housing on the Big Island. Their target? Stopping Bill 324. Introduced by Pete Hoffman and supported by Council members Bob Jacobson and Angel Pilago, Bill 324 would impose a $6386 “impact fee’ on any new residential home construction. Mayoral candidate Senator Lorraine Inouye has signed the petition against the bill and pledges to veto it. Also signing: Mayoral candidates Billy Kenoi, Sam Masilamoney, and Jasper Moore.
Bill 324 is the latest in a series of efforts to increase the cost of home construction on the Big Island. Puna and Ka`u have become the last places in Hawai`i where a young family can get started in a home of their own. With 10,000 people leaving Hawai`i in the last year, strangling affordable housing availability in Puna and Ka`u is a critical step towards transforming Hawai`i into an exclusive haven for rich northern California eco-snobs.
(By comparison, in 2005 about 10,000 Cubans left their socialist island for the USA, but Cuba’s population is 10 times that of Hawai`i so the effective rate of emigration to the US mainland from socialist Hawai`i is ten times higher than that of socialist Cuba.)
Your house is not the only target. The bill also slams hospitals. In the midst of Hawai`i’s medical crisis, a new 100,000 sq foot hospital would be required to fork out $545,100 to the county. A 100,000 sq foot commercial center would be hit with $496,800 in new fees. A new 100,000 sq foot school? $108,000. Nursing home? $190,300. Also targeted churches, industry, and warehouses. All of these fees make conditions more difficult for anybody attempting to diversify Hawai`i’s economy away from dependence on tourism. The fees will all be adjusted upwards to account for inflation.
Most subdivisions in Puna and Ka`u do not have water service. Kona Wonderview subdivision has in the past been held up as an example for water service establishment. Wonderview residents in 2005 were able to bring in county water service paid for by county-backed special-use bonds to be paid off over time by subdivision residents. It is not clear why anybody would ever believe that “impact fees” collected in advance under 324 and handed over to the tender mercies of the Hawai`i County Council could fund construction of water systems anywhere.
Ka`u and Puna lot owners have long discussed suing the county for unequal provision of services funded by County property taxes. But property taxes go into the general fund which allegedly serves the entire island equally.
Impact fees are different. They are tied to specific services and tied to specific districts. The County’s failure to provide these services is an inevitability. There simply is not enough new construction in Puna and Ka`u to come anywhere near to paying for a water system or roads from the fees. Those hit by the impact fee could be given cause to sue the county because fees are being charged to them but no service is being provided and there is no credible plan to ever provide said service. This impact fee may force the county to accept the expensive burden of constructing roads and water systems to serve 50,000 to 75,000 lots on catchment possibly forcing the county into bankruptcy.
In spite of this, basic services are less than half of the purpose of the fees. The largest portion of the $6386 is $3283 (51.4%) designated for parks. This is ten times the amount dedicated to provision of police services. The County already owns many poorly maintained parks and has set aside 2% of the county’s annual property tax revenues to purchase new open spaces for public parks.
The council will be considering Bill 324 in Kona on September 9-10 and in Hilo on September 23-24. In addition to testifying against the bill and signing the petition against the bill, voters can register their displeasure by voting out the bill’s supporters in the council elections September 20.