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LETTERS for the March 14 issue

By Staff | Mar 14, 2019

More housing would boost Maui tax revenues

As Maui County lawmakers search under the couch cushions for loose change that would help them meet their budgetary goals, they should remember that finding extra cash could be easy, if they would only step out of the way of island homebuilders.

That’s right: the county could boost its property tax revenues – without increasing tax rates – by simply removing unnecessary barriers to new housing, which also would also help island families find new homes to live in.

Unlike the state, the four counties in Hawaii have the unique ability to collect revenues from property taxes, and this should make the goal of providing housing especially attractive for county lawmakers.

In fiscal year 2019, property tax revenues make up 54 percent of Maui County’s $591 million operating budget, so slight increases in property tax revenues would greatly affect the county’s available cash.

According to the “Hawaii Housing Planning Study, 2016” conducted by SMS Research and Marketing Services Inc., 13,949 additional housing units will be needed in Maui County by 2025. Achieving that goal could raise about $13 million extra annually, on average, for Maui County, according to a low-ball estimate by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

Whether those homes will ever be built is another issue. Maui County’s housing crunch, after all, is due mostly to government zoning regulations, which have limited urban and rural development in the county to only 6 percent of all land. Of the rest, 52 percent is zoned for agriculture and 42 percent for conservation.

If county lawmakers were to rezone significant portions of the county’s unused agricultural land for housing, this would give Maui homebuilders a head start on creating neighborhoods for island families, while leaving untouched any land preserved for conservation.

One limitation is that any project that is more than 15 acres triggers involvement by the state Land Use Commission, which typically greatly lengthens the time required to build a new housing project. But that still leaves a lot of options.

Beyond zoning, Maui County has a nest of other regulations that entangle home builders. In a 2018 report for the Maui Office of Council Services, SMS noted that such regulations add time and uncertainty to housing projects, which increases their costs. It recommended streamlining approvals for housing projects, but noted that the thicket of Maui County housing regulations tend to make streamlining difficult.

As the report dryly stated: “Current policy better serves a slow-growth or no-growth policy than any other (planning model). It pleases NIMBYs and last persons in the door and fails to serve native sons and little guys.”

To address this concern, Maui lawmakers should seek to simplify the regime of county housing regulations, to help speed up the process of building homes.

New housing construction would help relieve pressure on Maui’s tight housing market, stabilizing or reducing all home prices, which would help Maui families desperate to find affordable housing. It also would provide hundreds, if not thousands, of construction jobs, further increasing the county’s tax revenues and improving the quality of life in the county generally.

A further benefit would be that, with the resulting added tax revenue, Maui County Council members would have some wiggle room to possibly even lower the county’s property tax rates, if they so desired, which would further ease the cost of living for Valley Island residents.

Sounds like win-win-win and more win.

JOE KENT, Executive Vice President, Grassroot Institute of Hawaii


How Lahaina News was founded

The Lahaina News was so radically DIFFERENT 40 years ago, it is difficult to even imagine it. It would be like trying to compare a surfing magazine with a skiing magazine.

As the turbulent, wild, extreme Maui 1970s turned into the New Wave/Disco Glamour/Punk 1980s, masses of mainlanders invaded, driving up the cost of living. The very “conservative” THE MAUI NEWS had a rival “liberal” in THE MAUI SUN. I had been a star reporter and columnist for The Maui Sun since it began as The Lahaina Sun in the early 1970s. It had so many ads and was so popular, I could not imagine it going out of business ever. The Maui Sun was not afraid to publicly expose the biggest top secret conspiracies of that century! The Maui News censored such news, allegedly fearing it would scare away their mostly conservative advertisers, including Orthodox religious and old fashioned locals.

We also took the lead in publishing exposed Maui and state political corruption, which The Maui News was afraid to publish. In that decade, future Councilman Wayne Nishiki and political activist Rick Reed published a few issues of a newspaper that exposed more Maui political corruption than anyone ever had! However, it was so radical that it didn’t attract enough advertisers to keep in business.

When the Maui Sun suddenly and unexpectedly went out of business in 1979, it was time for a new newspaper! Terry Armas and I founded the Lahaina News, with myself as news editor and Terry as managing editor. I was in charge of the articles, photos and employees, while Terry was in charge of the banking and business. Channel 7 Television CEO John Venus let us use his station for our first office and production, and we sent the masters to a printer.

The Lahaina News was designed to be a totally DIFFERENT type of newspaper. WE REFUSED TO PUBLISH ANY “BAD NEWS.” It was promoted as “The All Good News Newspaper” to brighten your day with lots of humor, amazing/positive people profiles, amazing true Maui events, the MOST thorough Maui sports coverage ever done, fun adventures and world travel tales, and NO off-island news!

The issues we did all had great art by locals surrounding all the borders of all the pages, spectacular art donations on inside pages, and sketches of familiar faces seen at the post office, bank and supermarket. Readers would exclaim, “I saw that person,” or “I know that man (or woman).” People eagerly picked up the following issue, hoping to see a sketched friend or themselves on a border. We quickly sold so many ads.

(To be continued.)