Caldwell, Hannemann smarting from Kalihi tax flap

Acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell is struggling to get on top of the stealth rezonings that have raised the property taxes of 250 O’ahu residents, mostly in Kalihi, by more than 300 percent.

The outcry could affect the Sept. 18 election chances of both Caldwell and former Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who handed his former managing director the mayor’s job — and the tax problem — when he resigned to run for governor.

The issue is the surprise reclassification of apartments and homes from residential to commercial and industrial. In one case cited by the Star-Advertiser, a Stanley Street resident saw his bill go up from $2,335 last year to $10,552.

Many of the residents are elderly and some have lived in their homes more than 50 years; with all the confusion and payments already due, they have few options.

It’s disturbing how Caldwell and Hannemann have deflected responsibility for the hardship these people are suffering, saying it was a decision by anonymous tax assessors and not a policy call by the administration.

The last time I looked, the mayor and managing director had oversight authority for city bureaucrats, and either they were asleep at the wheel or chose not to head off this disaster for the homeowners to squeeze out a few more property tax dollars at their expense.

City Council members say they were never notified of the changes by the administration and certainly would have done something to provide relief if they had known.

What the administration is missing with its technocratic tap dancing — and council members and others in the community are seeing clearly with their outrage — is that you just don’t treat people this way.

Affected residents apparently have no recourse this tax year except to ask the city for a “structured tax payment plan” and have only until September 1 to apply for a waiver next year.

Both Caldwell and some council members are floating bills to refund the excess taxes, but homeowners would have to pay now and hope to get their money back later.

That’s just plain chicken, and creative leadership would have found a fair resolution before it became a crisis for these folks.

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16 Comments on “Caldwell, Hannemann smarting from Kalihi tax flap”

  1. Nikki Heat Says:

    Dave. You hit it on the head. It’s how the City is treating the people, stupid.
    A similar deflection on Maui is Mayor Tavares quipping she’s “not the queen of Maui” while explaining she can’t do anything to stop the enforcement of an outdated and silly interpretation of the County sign ordinance (i.e., putting up a “Going Out of Business Sale” sign violates it). If Mufi and Kirk are running on their executive experience, then there’s a serious disconnect between rhetoric and reality (and no twitter snark by Mufi’s social media spokeswoman during last week’s televised debate about whatever zoning process or assessment was followed changes the obvious unfairness of springing a $10,000+ tax bill on a retired person who previously paid 1/5th of that amount).

  2. Richard Gozinya Says:

    When any organization – public or private – gets too big and cumbersome, it manifests its inefficient bulk by sacrificing common sense on the alter of standard operating policies and procedures.

    We simply have way too many folks hogging at the tax trough and justifying their existence by producing and promulgating reams and reams of policies and procedures that fail to employ simple solutions to obvious problems.

  3. Get real Says:

    This is terrible for the people who only own residential property and are genuinely affected, but that’s not all 250 as you are so quick to assume.

    And do you really believe that none of the Council members knew about this situation when they passed Bill 6 specifically to address it in future years, that Cachola just happened to pick the afternoon before the first televised gubernatorial candidates’ debate to announce his “shock” and “indignation” to the gullible media, and that Abercrombie just happened to jump all over it?

    Snake oil for sale in aisle 7.

    Clue: Do any Council members own property that could have been affected? What did they do about it, and when did they do it? And what does that tell you?

  4. WooWoo Says:

    Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
    Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
    Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
    Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

    Is anybody else curious on why a certain online guard dog has not barked for several days now?

  5. charles Says:

    Does anyone know the process of how property taxes are changed? When this area in Kalihi was rezoned was it done by a few bureaucrats without any public hearings?

    While this is certainly a debacle, I don’t know enough of the facts to say that the mayor is culpable. Did he know for certain this was going to happen and said, “Let the eat cake!”? Was the council totally oblivious that this was going to happen?

    Ultimately, the buck stops at the mayor’s desk but to expect anyone to know everything that is happening in city government (or any government) is a tall order.

    It would be interesting to have the story on the exact sequence of events that led to the increase. My hunch is that it didn’t happen overnight.

  6. shaftalley Says:

    $10,552 is way too much tax for commercial,industrial use also!

  7. anticoqui Says:

    I’m not in the same area, but I’ve noticed that our residential subdivision now has a medical clinic; VA clinic; 2 realtor/vacation rental offices; fish food outlet; and ATT or Verizon office on the first row of what used to be homes. Will we be subjected later on to a change in zoning/tax rates like these elderly home-owners? Maybe those folks should have been exempted/grandfathered into their old tax rates.

  8. Tommy Says:

    I agree with Charles. I don’t believe the situation is as simple as Dave presents it. Things fall through the cracks at any large organization despite the best efforts of decision makers.

    I am withholding judgement until I hear the facts about how this occurred.

  9. Michael Says:

    Is this area in Kalihi where they will put structures for the Rail? If it is, what a way of making people move out by raising the property tax or condenming the buildings and get the land almost for nothing.
    If not just a thought.

    I also think that the people moving, houses torn down and some sort of parking lot or shopping center will be built in its place. To entertain the Rail.
    If not just a thought again.

    If raising property tax, I would think the whole Island of Oahu should share in the tax raise, not just one city or area. Then again not all Island will share in the Rail but the bill to build it. So why should others pay for a Rail they will not use?

    I think this issue is Rail related.

  10. Tommy Says:

    @michael, why would you make those statements without even knowing where the properties in question are located? I get the impression you would relate any negative city topic to rail in order to make rail look bad.


  11. From Richard’s description of DMV-like bureaucratic bungling to Michael’s GMC-like conspiratorial predation, the comments run the gamut.

    As you said, “you just don’t treat people this way” that goes for the former and it goes in spades for the latter.

    I hope the answer is closer to the former than the latter. I generally take the position that one should never ascribe to conspiracy that which can be explained by incompetence. But, you never know.

  12. Andy Parx Says:

    Charles asks the question that has been perplexing me-who (what body) rezoned this property wholesale and how did it happen without anyone knowing? Though I’m not familiar with Honolulu’s charter the city council must have voted to change the zoning by ordinance replete with public hearings. It isn’t about property taxes, it’s about zoning. Isn’t there a reporter in Honolulu who knows the process and can report on it correctly and fully?

  13. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    Who’s the on-line guard dog?

    I do business in the area several times a month and it is several blocks away from the proposed mass transit line now that the system ha been moved away from running through the middle of Kalihi to closer to Nimitz Highway.

    The property tax rates for all properties are proposed by the Mayor & the Council, amended & passed by the Council, signed into law by the Mayor, and administered by the Department of Budget & Fiscal Services whose head reports directly to the Mayor rather than going through the Managing Director’s office like many other departments do. BFS’s head is, of course, a key member of the Mayor’s Cabinet.

    Once the rates are set, then the decision to assign the property to one classification or another is done by anonymous bureaucrats.

    Although legally the decision to move the properties from one classification to another is probably correct given their location, the method by which it was done really sucks.

    Who’s responsible? The Councilmember in whose district the property is sited, the Mayor and his/her Managing Director, the head of Budget & Fiscal Services – and the bureaucrat who failed to take it up with his supervisor and to make sure it was flaged for a further look.

  14. Michael Says:

    Why was this particular area chosen as commercial?
    Just a thought is just my opinion. How long have talks on rail been going on? What makes my comment negative? I don’t need to add anything to make rail look bad. Tommy, Prove me wrong!

    You see a rail. I see a toy train on a table top for someone to play. As you have more money you add more things around the area. hanneman said things will be added around the area of rail. a park, entertainment center, shopping center etc. Prove me that I am not making this up. since hanneman is not mayor it is caldwell finishing up what was started.

    Right side, left side or middle is still part of Kalihi.

    Turk, the only conspiracy is, GMC made fools of us with the bailout of Tax dollars. Don’t you feel foolish? You should. I conspire with a 2 cent comments. GMC tooks billions.

  15. Bad Facts Says:

    I must have been sleeping when the story broke, because I can’t believe that not a single one of Honolulu’s numerous ace reporters made note of the City Council last month passing Bill 6, which created a new tax break for owners of apartment buildings on land zoned commercial or industrial, by allowing them to dedicate their property as residential:

    http://www4.honolulu.gov/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-103272/57sq5s40.pdf

    I mean, it’s not like the most controversial member of the Council didn’t publicly disclose back in February that she stood to directly benefit from this legislation:

    http://www4.honolulu.gov/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-97209/4v-mw8tc.pdf

    And it’s not like she didn’t repeatedly vote for it anyway before carefully abstaining from the final vote:

    http://www4.honolulu.gov/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-96699/BILL006%2810%29.htm

    And it’s not like Bill 6 wasn’t introduced in January by her political understudy and former campaign manager, who mean people have said she controls as if she wears him like a costume:

    http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2003/Oct/29/op/op03adavid.html

    And it’s not like she doesn’t have a stellar record of public integrity and effectiveness on the Council:

    http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2003/Jun/04/op/op05a.html

    I simply refuse to believe that the Council passed Bill 6 just for her benefit, without even realizing that some other owners of commercial or industrial lots had been informed, a month before Bill 6 was introduced, that their properties were being reclassified to reflect the true zoning.

    I’m sure the Council members who knew all about this many months ago and voted for Bill 6 had legitimate reasons for making it take effect next year, rather than this year, and for not informing constituents who own single family homes on reclassified commercial and industrial lots that they could already avoid tax increases by dedicating their property as residential.

    I’m certain no real reporter would be silly enough to accept statements by Councilman Romy Cachola about this situation at face value during a bitter campaign season in which he is actively backing one gubernatorial candidate and viciously bashing another.

    I mean, golly, he’s not running for office himself.

    It’s not like us amateurs easily come up with lots of troubling facts and serious questions.

    And I’m sure there are no more skeletons waiting to pop out of this moldy closet.

  16. Babes in the woods Says:

    Well, it’s Aug. 30 and there’s a story in today’s newspaper about Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi holding a news conference yesterday to harp on this subject some more.

    There’s no actual news in the story, and certainly no discussion of Kobayashi directly benefiting from Bill 6 or any explanation of why the council made it take effect next year rather than this year, leaving affected apartment building owners in the lurch.

    Golly, there must be another televised debate between the gubernatorial candidates tonight.

    Must be a coincidence. But I’ll bet this subject comes up.

    It’s really sad to watch the news media get played so badly. But I’ll bet Kobayashi and a few others are having a good, cynical chuckle about it.


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