Lahaina residents turn out at council budget hearing
LAHAINA – Over 200 people turned out at the Lahaina Civic Center on Wednesday, April 11, to voice their support or opposition for potential items to be included in the County of Maui Fiscal Year 2013 Budget.
Linked to the core functions defined in the Charter of the County of Maui, the mayor’s proposed budget outlines a Strategic Vision that includes: “An efficient, effective and responsive government, a strong diversified economy, suitable public infrastructure, a prepared, safe and livable county and a healthy sustainable community.”
How well that vision is being met was the focus of heated discussion, as 70 audience members affiliated by ownership, management or employment in the time share industry showed up to have their spokespersons respectfully request, implore and demand that the Maui County Council not agree to a property tax increase on time shares included in the budget Mayor Alan Arakawa submitted to the council on March 23.
Steve Aheong, housekeeping director at the Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas, testified that he was Maui born and raised and is opposed to the mayor’s proposal to raise the time share tax rate from $15 to $16.15 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Aheong is also concerned that “the time share industry seems to be targeted/labeled in a negative fashion for our community.”
“Our state spends millions of dollars each year in marketing campaigns designed to lure visitors to the islands and sustain the lifeblood of our economy. Yet once they get here and make a long-term commitment to our island by becoming a time share owner, they are subject to a tax burden unlike any other taxable division in the county – 600 percent higher than residential tax rates and 66 percent higher than the rate assessed to other hotels and resorts. Yet there are no facts that time share guests use more services or burden county resources at a rate greater than other residents or transient guests,” he testified.
Sidney Sparkman, president of SGS Hawaii Inc. Landscape Management, has worked in the resort industry since 1993 and employs 30 people on Maui.
Sparkman told the Budget and Finance Committee, “Increasing the tax rate may be a band aid for current shortfalls within the county budget, but as airfares increase, tactics such as this may push owners away, and discourage new ones from investing in Maui.”
Sulinn Aipa is a local girl whose parents are descendants of the sugarcane migration workforce. As a little girl, she accompanied her father, Ah Hong Aipa, who is known as a master octopus diver, everywhere he went on the island.
Today she works in the time share industry and told the council committee that further increasing tax bills could lead time share owners to sell or fall into foreclosure.
“I am here before you to comment on the proposed increase in property taxes for time shares, in hopes you will see that I am standing here trying to protect our livelihood and ability to support our families,” Aipa testified.
Mike Kelley, the president of Beach Activities of Maui, began his career in 1977 selling suntan products for a resort in Kaanapali Beach,
He told the council members when full-service hotel occupancies dropped to lows never before recorded in the respective resort’s history, time share properties maintained healthy occupancies.
Kelley testified, “Over the years I’ve spoken to many owners of time shares on Maui. I have discovered that a good amount of them own time shares all over the U.S. and some all over the world. When these tax increases have come up in the past, many have shared with me that if it got too bad on Maui, they would just let their Hawaii properties go and frequent more business-friendly environments.”
South Maui Councilman Don Couch repeatedly tried to make the point to the testifiers that while the proposed tax rate is higher, the actual revenue is approximately the same as last year, and the tax paid by individual owners would be less. However, his efforts fell on deaf ears.
It was not all time share, even though that issue dominated the meeting that began at 6 p.m. and finally ended three hours later at 9:04 p.m.
May Fujiwara, president of the Lahaina-Honolua Senior Citizens’ Club, asked for council funding for Lahaina Boat Day greeting activities and for several MEO programs, including senior transportation, the BEST program for the reintegration of former inmates, Enlace Hispano services to the Hispanic community, the Business Development Program, rental assistance, Kahi Kamali’i infant care and Head Start.
Professor Christine McCohnell, who could not attend in person due to illness, had her testimony read by Mike McCormick in support of the “Best Buddies” program that creates “advancement for students with disabilities by building friendships with non-disabled students.”
Additional items raised for council consideration included an increase in funding for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Maui, rehabilitation of the Maluhia Boy Scout Camp and a request that Wahikuli Road be repaired following more than a year of construction truck traffic that has left the road a torn up mess.