Honolulu City Council approves military property tax break

A bill giving active duty members of the military a $140 cut on their property taxes won final approval by the Honolulu City Council Wednesday despite concerns by city officials about its cost.

The vote was 6-2 with Council members Joey Manahan and Ron Menor opposed and Council members Ikaika Anderson and Brandon Elefante voting with reservations. Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi was ill and absent from Wednesday’s meeting.

Bill 91 (2017) now goes to Mayor Kirk Caldwell. Andrew Pereira, a Caldwell spokesman, said the bill must undergo a standard legal review by city attorneys before Caldwell will decide whether to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

The bill, introduced by Council Chairman Ernie Martin, provides those eligible with a $120,000 exemption from the assessed value of the homes that they live in, or about 50 percent more than the standard owner-occupant exemption.

Property taxes are determined by multiplying the assessed value of a property by a rate that applies to each property tax classification. Residential property owners pay at a rate of $3.50 for every $1,000 of taxable value, so the $40,000 additional exemption comes out to $140.

At a Council Budget Committee meeting in May, city Budget Director Nelson Koyanagi said the impact to the city could be as much as $1 million annually, which he said is substantial. He estimated that as many as 7,143 property owners could be eligible.

Koyanagi said it is unclear whether the break would apply to National Guard and Reserve members. “It is our understanding that those who are reporting one weekend per month are not considered to be on active duty, but are on active duty status while fulfilling their two-week requirement,” he said in written testimony.

While the bill is well-intended, Manahan said, “It’s too broad, it sets no income limits to qualify for the exemption, which means servicemen or veterans making six figures would be able to qualify for this exemption that would be balanced on the backs of our residents.”

Martin, however, said $1 million annually is a “very small and insignificant exemption” to recognize those who serve.

In other action Wednesday, the Council voted to:

>> Give first reading approval to Bill 55, to establish a one-year pilot project for self-serviced docked or dockless shared-use bicycles, and Bill 56, to create a program that promotes alternate modes of transportation. But when reporters asked why Bill 56, which was not on Wednesday’s posted agenda, was being forced on (through a super majority vote of the Council) without the standard six-day notice to the public, Councilman Trevor Ozawa, who authored the bill, said he is asking that bill not be advanced.

Instead, a new bill, Bill 57, introduced late Wednesday and mirrors Bill 56, will be up for first reading at next month’s full Council meeting. State open meeting laws say a bill can be placed on an agenda within the standard six-day public notice period so long as a super majority consents and provided the measure is not of significant importance or will impact a great number of people.

>> Give first reading approval to two bills aimed at removing the homeless and others from city sidewalks islandwide. Bill 51 prohibits obstructing pedestrian passage between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily. Bill 52 prohibits people from “lodging” on sidewalks, and allows police to remove someone for doing so anytime during the day provided there is shelter space available. The bills now go to the Public Works, Infrastructure and Sustainability Committee.

>> Give first reading approval to Bill 50, which slaps stricter penalties on those who violate the interim prohibition on large residential structures, or monster houses, including demolition and a bar on new permits, and Bill 53, which places stricter penalties on those who construct or do other work on houses without necessary permits.

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