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Hawaii County sees rise in property tax appeals

KAILUA-KONA (AP) — There were more than twice as many property owners in Hawaii County who appealed their tax assessments this year compared to last year, a report said.

The Hawaii County Real Property Tax Board of Review said there were 750 appeals on property worth more than $660 million in real estate value, more than double the 355 appeals filed in 2019, West Hawaii Today reported Monday.

More than 400 of the latest appeals were filed in East Hawaii and 343 were filed in West Hawaii, officials said.

Assistant Real Property Tax Administrator Keita Jo said the five-member volunteer board dismissed one case, sustained 105 county assessments and reduced the assessment or approved an exemption for 170 cases.

“This was anticipated due to COVID-19 impacts starting in February and many being able to review their assessments in greater detail,” Jo said. “However, the date of assessment for last year’s assessment was January 1 and predated any potential COVID-19 impacts to the real estate market.”

She said assessments next year could create a similar rise of appeals when notices go out March 15.

The board recommended the county make the $50 appeal fee nonrefundable, a change that would require action by the County Council. The fee is currently refunded to taxpayers who win their appeals.

Board members also recommended the county remove a tax exemption program known as the “non-speculative residential” program, which allows property owners to freeze their property value for five or 10 years by dedicating it to their own homestead use.

Tax officials said a 2008 law closed the program to new property owners, but those who were grandfathered into the 1958 program may have an unfair advantage over other property owners who can’t participate.

“The Board believes the Non-Speculative Residential Program should no longer exist because the homeowners class, exemptions and other programs have taken its place,” the report read.

The report was signed by the five board members, including Chairman Michael Hughes, Vice Chairwoman Emygrace Reinhard and members Nelson Harano, V. Diane Blancett-Maddock and Michael Okumoto.