Mayor Billy Kenoi today called on the Hawai’i County Council to reject Bill 132 when the council Finance Committee considers the measure next week. Bill 132 would require the County Council approve each county land sale two times, adding a new bureaucratic layer to the process.
“This issue is about fiscal responsibility,” Mayor Kenoi said. “Because of the difficult economic times, we proposed selling a portion of the Hamakua lands that have sat unused for 15 years. The sale was part of a budget process designed to avoid raising taxes, avoid cuts in non-profit agencies, maintain free bus service, and protect essential services such as police and fire protection. In June, the County Council agreed with this proposal, and voted 8-1 for a budget that included revenue from a Hamakua land sale.”
“Now, some members of the County Council have apparently changed their minds. We are well into the fiscal year and are committed to the budget the council adopted, but the council is considering a bill that will make it far more difficult if not impossible to sell the unused land and balance the budget,” Mayor Kenoi said.
“The Hamakua lands are zoned for agricultural uses today, and will remain agricultural lands after the sale. Putting those lands in private hands will allow them to become productive again, which will generate agricultural activity and create jobs for our community. As an added benefit, the new owners will be obligated to pay property taxes on the Hamakua lands, which will further help balance the county’s budget going forward in a challenging economic environment,” Mayor Kenoi said.
“If the Hamakua land sale must be canceled because of Bill 132, that will open up an $8.2 million deficit in the current year’s budget, triggering dramatic and painful cuts in services,” Mayor Kenoi said. “There is no sign that the council members advocating this bill have any sort of plan to make up for that lost revenue.”
“This is bad and unnecessary legislation because the buyer, price and potential land uses in any public land sale are already public record by law,” Mayor Kenoi said. “The council already authorizes county land sales by resolution before the land is put on the market. The council is well aware of all possible uses of the lands under existing zoning, and the council has complete control over any rezoning that might be proposed in the future. This ensures the Hamakua lands will remain zoned for agriculture and will be used for agricultural activities in the future.
“The public has had ample opportunity to provide testimony through the budget hearing process. Appropriate safeguards are already in place to protect the public interest.”
“Bill 132 will create enormous uncertainty,” Mayor Kenoi said. “The competitive bid process is customarily used to ensure a fair and equitable outcome, but some on the council now want the authority to overrule that process and jeopardize a fair and equitable outcome.”
“The proposed ordinance is an unnecessary and bureaucratic add-on to an open and transparent process. It will jeopardize the county budget and finances,” Mayor Kenoi said. “This administration’s commitment is to reduce the size and barriers in government, not to erect them as Bill 132 does.”