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Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Tax Watch: Honolulu Property Taxes
By Rachelle Chang @ 10:12 PM :: 5750 Views :: Honolulu County, Taxes

Tax Watch: Honolulu Property Taxes

by Rachelle Chang, Better Hawaii

On July 10, 2013, Mayor Kirk Caldwell proposed ten property tax bills. All ten bills passed the first reading at the Honolulu City Council.

Since all ten bills are under consideration, let’s take some time to look at the property tax proposals. You can and should read the 2013 Honolulu City Council bills for yourself in PDF format here. I’m not a lawyer or tax expert, so if I’ve misunderstood any of the bills, please let me know!

First, let me state that I think all laws and all taxes should be

  1. fair and reasonable,
  2. easy to understand, and
  3. easy to comply with.

You decide whether the current real property tax code, and these property tax proposals, meet these standards.

1. Bill 34: Amends the exemption for charitable purposes, including labor unions and federal credit unions. No exemption percentage stated.

My opinion: what is the intent of this bill? It appears to re-word the existing code, without any changes.

2. Bill 35: Cancels the real property tax exemptions for historic commercial real property dedicated for preservation. Currently, 50% of the value of the designated historical site is exempt from real property taxes.

My opinion: “designated historical sites,” unless they are nonprofit community or cultural organizations, should pay the assessed property tax rate.

3. Bill 36: Adjusts the amount of real property tax exemptions for federal or state credit unions. Currently, credit unions pay the minimum $300 real property tax.

My opinion: credit unions are a business and should pay the assessed property tax rate.

4. Bill 37: Adds transient vacation and bed-and-breakfast units to the “hotel and resort” real property class, raising the real property tax rate from $3.50 (residential) to $12.40 (hotel and resort) per $1,000 net taxable property.

My opinion: this could discourage entrepreneurial individuals and families. It may also decrease income and general excise taxes, if homeowners choose not to offer vacation rentals because they can’t afford the almost 300% increase in property taxes.

5. Bill 38: Cancels the real property tax exemptions for dedicated lands in urban districts.

My opinion: I need more information about “dedicated lands in urban districts.” How much land is currently dedicated? Can the lands be considered “public service”?

6. Bill 39: Adjusts the amount of certain real property tax exemptions for nonprofit medical and hospital indemnity associations. No exemption percentage stated.

My opinion: nonprofit medical and hospital facilities are a public service.

7. Bill 40: Repeals the “in lieu of” home exemption for low-income taxpayers over age 75, limiting the home exemption to $120,000.

Currently,

  • low-income taxpayers age 75 have a home exemption of $140,000;
  • low-income taxpayers age 80 have a home exemption of $160,000;
  • low-income taxpayers age 85 have a home exemption of $180,000; and
  • low-income taxpayers age 90 have a home exemption of $200,000.

My opinion: undecided. My sympathy for elderly low-income residents is tempered by my support for a simplified and fair tax code.

8. Bill 41: Adds “residential-multifamily” as a new general real property class. Currently, multi-family properties are taxed at the single-family tax rate of $3.50 per $1,000 net taxable property. No tax rate stated.

My opinion: what is the intent of this bill? How is a single family property shared by multiple families different from a multifamily property? Do residents of multifamily properties use less or more government services than residents of single family properties?

9. Bill 42: Adds “Residential A” as new general real property class for homes with assessed values of $1 million or more; and for homes that are not owner-occupied as the principal home.

My opinion: this is unfair. Part-time residents pay the same property taxes as full-time residents, but use less government services. In effect, they are already paying a higher tax rate. And if they rent their home, they are paying more taxes in the form of personal income and general excise taxes.

10. Bill 43: Adds “time share” as a new general real property class, including condominium units used as time share units. No tax rate stated. Currently, time shares are assessed at the “hotel and resort” rate of $12.40 per $1,000 net taxable property.

My opinion: what is the intent of this bill? Time share owners and visitors already pay a higher tax rate than full-time residents, but use less government services. FYI Maui’s “time share” class is assessed the highest rate in the state, at $15.50 per $1,000 net taxable property.

Please think about these property tax issues and how they may affect you and your neighbors, whether or not you live in Honolulu. If you feel strongly about an issue, speak out! Talk to your family and friends, let your Honolulu Councilmember know about it, and write letters to the local newspapers.

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