Roadway improvement obligations are not being hidden from property owners

This is a response to the March 2 Viewpoint, “Liens need to be removed,” regarding deferral agreements on certain properties in Maui County.

While the Viewpoint writer attempts to frame this as a countywide conspiracy, it actually boils down to a conflict between neighbors that has been ongoing for years. In his argument, he also seems to completely misunderstand and mischaracterize these agreements as liens.

Allow me to set the record straight.

A county ordinance in place from the 1970s up to 2007, codified as Maui County Code Section 18.20.040, allowed a subdivider of three lots or less, at his or her election, to defer required roadway improvements. If the subdivider elected to defer the improvements, he/she would be required to compensate the County of Maui for the cost of the improvements when performed by the county. To ensure that this was done, the subdivider was required to enter into an agreement to compensate the county for the improvements when performed. The agreements were recorded and made to run with the land to make sure that selling the property would not eliminate the obligation to fund the required improvements.

Many properties in Maui County have recorded agreements against their property for adjacent roadway improvements that were deferred by the original subdividers, as allowed by ordinance. The recorded agreements make clear that any subsequent owner of the property is responsible for the deferred improvements, as required by the Maui County Code.

The Department of Public Works is currently enforcing the agreements per their express terms. The Viewpoint writer describes this as a secret expansion of the law. This is only a secret if a person is not familiar with existing county code.

Since these agreements are recorded in the state’s Bureau of Conveyances, they appear on a title report when one purchases a property and would be listed as an encumbrance on the deed to the property. A simple examination of the deed or title report and then a review of the agreement will allow any prospective buyer of a piece of property to understand the agreement and consider the agreement in the purchase of the property.

As explained, the agreements state that if and when the County of Maui does a capital improvement project along a roadway fronting a property that has one of these agreements recorded against it property, the county may recover the costs of doing those improvements that were specifically deferred.

Property owners can find out if they have such an agreement on their property by simply reviewing the deed or title report provided when the property was purchased. Anyone who has such an agreement recorded against their property and wishes to understand it better can contact the Public Works Department at Department officials can provide a copy of the agreement, the type of improvements that were deferred and information on whether or not a project is planned for a specific roadway. Property owners may then consult a civil engineer or a contractor to get an estimate of what those deferred costs may be.

The Viewpoint writer and his client were placed on notice of their roadway improvement obligations when they bought properties subject to recorded agreements. Should they wish to legally challenge the agreements, they may do so, but will be unsuccessful as the agreements were authorized by law.

It’s unfortunate that anyone would insinuate these agreements are invalid, secret or a big pot of gold that the county is not collecting. They are agreements, plain and simple, and the county is abiding by them.

* David C. Goode is the director of the Maui County Department of Public Works.