Council committee releases $832M budget and tax proposals

Budget invests in environmental programs, tourism impacts, is $51M more than mayor’s

The Maui County Council’s budget committee released a working operating budget on Tuesday that would invest more in environmental and shoreline management programs and put more pressure on the Maui County Visitor Association to shoulder the impacts of tourism.

Thus far, the version of the budget that the Economic Development and Budget Committee is working on is at about $832 million — about $51.1 million more than the $781 million budget proposed by Mayor Michael Victorino, according to Supervising Legislative Attorney David Raatz. However, Raatz pointed out that “the numbers are still in constant flux.”

About $13 million of the committee’s proposed increases are in capital improvement projects; the rest is in operating costs. The total includes all proposed increases, whether approved or still pending.

One of the key focuses of the committee’s operating budget was to put more responsibility on the Maui County Visitor Association to fund education and local causes. Of the $4 million allotted to the association, $200,000 would have to be spent on Hana Highway visitor education, $180,000 on the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council for reef protection education and $100,000 toward education on the impact of illegal vacation rentals. The association would also have to put $100,000 toward the Festivals of Aloha, $100,000 toward promoting county-owned golf courses, $50,000 to the Valley Isle Road Runners to support the Maui Marathon and $25,000 toward Lahaina Boat Day.

“I think we need a lot more money for environmental mitigation, especially invasive species and the rehabilitation of the reefs,” Council Chairwoman Kelly King said in an interview about budget priorities earlier this month. “And those should be supported by the (visitor association) budget because this is infrastructure for tourism. . . . It’s not all up to the environmental sector or the county to mitigate. The visitor industry has to get involved in that.”

The committee’s working budget also increases the Emergency Management Agency’s budget by $500,000, which would go toward Phase I of a countywide master plan for shoreline retreat, starting with Molokai. And, it increases grants and disbursements for the Maui Soil/Water Conservation District by $1 million while upping environmental protection grants by $400,000 — of which $169,000 must go to the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council for coastal water quality monitoring.

Other changes include increased funding for the Department of Housing and Human Concerns. The committee added $650,000 to the Housing Program — $150,000 of which must go toward a Housing Authority feasibility study. The committee also increased grants for affordable rental housing programs by $400,000 and for homeless programs by $1 million, while allocating $200,000 for a mobile hygiene unit in Central Maui.

Budget Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez also released an updated version of her real property tax proposal, which makes little or no changes to residential and homeowner rates while floating significant hikes to hotel/resort and short-term rental rates.

The current rates, mayor’s proposed rates and the budget chairwoman’s proposed rates are as follows:

Residential: $5.52, no change proposed

Apartment: $6.31, no change proposed

Commercial: $7.25 (current), $7.39 (mayor, budget chair)

Industrial: $7.45 (current), $7.48 (mayor, budget chair)

Agricultural: $6.00 (current, mayor), $5.94 (budget chair)

Conservation: $6.35, no change proposed

Hotel/resort: $9.37 (current), $9.60 (mayor), $14.91 (budget chair)

Time share: $15.41 (current), $13.93 (mayor), $15.41 (budget chair)

Short-term rental: $9.28 (current), $9.55 (mayor), $15.41 (budget chair)

Homeowner: $2.85 (current, mayor), $2.66 (budget chair)

Commercialized residential: $4.55, no change proposed

The rates are per $1,000 of net taxable assessed value.

Real property tax rates are the county’s largest source of revenue, and Rawlins-Fernandez’s proposal would boost annual property tax revenue from $338.1 million to $410.1 million. Revenue from hotel/resort property taxes would go from $27.5 million to $43.8 million, while revenue from short-term rentals would increase from $87.6 million to $145.4 million.

Rawlins-Fernandez was in budget deliberations and could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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