by Debbie Hecht
In 2006 57% of voters said “yes” to set aside 2% of our property taxes each year to acquire Open Space. There are now over $5 million in the fund, but the money for ’08 will pay for Kawa`a Bay. The 1.8 acres at Waipi`o Lookout was the first purchase using 2% money.

The Hawai`i County Council has approved nine resolutions, which instruct the Director of Finance to begin negotiations to acquire: Puapua`a Historic site (12+ acres north of Casa de Emdeko-Ali`I Drive, Kona), Waipi`o Lookout (acquired), Honoli`i, Cape Kumukahi, Ocean Park, Honolulu Landing, Wai`ele, Kawa`a Bay, Punalu`u Beach park.

Hawai`i Island’s treasured lands need to be saved now! These lands make Hawai`i Island unique and provide our quality of life. People say, “We need roads, schools and infrastructure.” Absolutely!! This is not a “one thing or the other” issue. Hawai`i County needs all of these things in equal measure. Our infrastructure is not keeping pace with development; our quality of life is suffering. Open Space does not require expensive government services to maintain.

The 2% funds will NOT save all our important lands before they fall to development. An Open Space and Parklands Bond can provide funding to acquire these lands through outright purchase or the purchase of development rights through conservation easements. This is not a new idea. From 2004 to early 2007, 200 communities nation-wide have authorized bonds to purchase open space and parklands. (Trust for Public Lands-Land Vote Database)

An Open Space and Parklands Bond would be levied against properties island-wide. How does this work? The County borrows money the same way you would borrow money for a mortgage to buy your home. The County could borrow $100 million to buy properties today and citizens countywide would pay back the loan. People with more expensive properties pay more. Look at the assessed value on your tax bill. If it states the assessed value is $100,000, you would pay $35.70/year or $2.98/month; someone with a property assessed at $500,000 would pay $178.50/year or $14.88/month; someone with a property assessed at $750,000 would pay $267.75/year or $22.31/month. If the Council passed this measure, you would not be assessed the total amount the next day; but the assessment would be added to your taxes gradually as properties were purchased and the money was spent.
Right now interest rates are low; the real estate market has fallen 20%, is still falling; developers’ cash flows are slowing and some landowners need to sell. This is a golden opportunity for the County!

Please ask your Council members to introduce resolutions to conserve our special lands, buffer reefs, preserve beach access and park properties — especially lands which will soon fall to development, before they are lost forever. Ask your community development plan to include a recommendation for an Open Space and Parklands Bond. Make this a campaign issue – ask Council candidates, “What is your plan for preserving parks and open space?”
Next month – a plan for park management. Aloha, Debbie