Big Island officials reject property tax relief measure

HILO (AP) — Big Island officials rejected a proposal that would have sought tax relief for commercial properties in the communities of Pahoa and Volcano.

The Hawaii County Council voted 7-1 Wednesday against the resolution requesting the county administration to impose the minimum tax rate for six months on properties in two of the areas affected by the Kilauea volcano eruption, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported .

Pahoa business owners told council members that they are still struggling to recover following the May eruption that led to hundreds of homes being destroyed and the lengthy closure of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

“Tenants are now reporting revenue decreases up to 40 percent,” said Suzanne Kruppa, owner of Pahoa Marketplace. “Some are on the verge of collapse.”

Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara backed the measure, saying Pahoa is at risk of becoming a ghost town.

“This is really needed now, and at the rate the county is moving, we’re not going to get any help in the short term,” O’Hara said.

The county would have lost $200,000 in tax revenue under the measure, but businesses could have each saved $1,500 to $3,500 — a “difference between going broke and not,” O’Hara said.

Councilman Tim Richards said giving tax amnesty to only some property owners through the resolution would set a bad precedent.

“Although I want to support Puna, Pahoa, I cannot support it in this method,” Richards said.

Because of the effects of Kilauea, the county has lost more than $3.3 million in property tax revenue for the current fiscal year.

“What Ms. O’Hara is looking for is something that deals with an income-based assessment, and there really is no authorization for something like that,” Councilman Aaron Chung said.