2% Land Fund Program at the Charter Commission NEXT MEETING April 25th 9:30 in HIlo

 

PONC acquisitions 2019

The 2% LAND FUND PROGRAM and the CHARTER COMMISSION 4.25.2019

The next Charter Commission MEETING is APRIL 25TH   in Hilo at the Council Chambers at 9:30 am. You can also testify in Kona from the Council chambers. If you cannot attend, please send an email.   Their email address is: Charter.commission@hawaiicounty.gov  

OUR GOAL IS TO STRENGTHEN THE 2% LAND PROGRAM by:

  • Acquiring more land
  • Boosting the purchasing power of the fund by obtaining more matching grants and
  • Awarding more stewardship grants to the non-profits who are caring for the 2% Lands

WHAT WE ARE REQUESTING FOR APRIL 25TH:   This small addition in bold.

No officer, board member, or employee of the 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization or the organization that operates under the umbrella of a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization shall receive a salary or payment for labor, or receive any reimbursement for the stewardship work on the project, unless they are paid for specific duties that are approved as part of their business plan. The 501(c)3 nonprofit shall sign an agreement so stating these conditions and submit it with the application.

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? We are trying to strengthen the 2% Land Fund Program. What we have learned from research and feedback from the non-profits who have applied for grant funding is that the volunteer workforce is inconsistent and shows up to help when it is convenient for them. As a result:

  1. All of the stewardship groups requested that they be able to pay people to work on the land.
  2. Every 2% Land Fund property needs the help of people who are committed to care for the land. Volunteers are very important, but they burn out and leave because of their responsibilities to work or family.
  3. As these programs grow, volunteer coordinators could be paid to maximize the land stewardship programs and create school education programs to educate keiki about the land, its history and culture.
  4. The ability to pay dedicated staff would help create jobs in rural, economically depressed areas of the island & minimize volunteer burnout. Right now the non-profits have to hire outside contractors to do some of the work.
  5. The original intent of this legislation as written by Council member Brenda Ford and me was to assist the stewardship non-profits to care for the land. 63% of voters approved this measure in 2012. Only 9% of all the monies deposited in the Maintenance Fund has been granted to the stewardship non-profits since 2013.

SUPPORT: CA-18- CHANGES TO THE MAINTENANCE FUND include: 

The Maintenance Fund will be administered by the Department of Finance with oversight by the Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Commission (PONC).
The Non profit groups will be able to:
-build toilet facilities, small structures and create trails or paths
-pay people for the work they do on the land.                                                                                             A VERY big mahalo to Commissioner Sally Rice to sponsor this amendment!

WE have heard from staff and the non-profits over the years and we believe that the proposed changes to the Maintenance Fund coupled with the addition of a full time staff person who works ONLY on the 2% Program will accomplish these goals in addition to the 1/2 time staff member who currently works for the Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Commission.

___________________________________________________________________________-

SUPPORT: CA-9: PROPOSED COMPROMISE CHANGE FOR A staff person to work ONLY on the 2% Land Fund Program:

Pay for the salary, wages and benefits of one full-time staff member, employed by the Department of Finance dedicated only to advancing administering the activities contained within this section and Section 10-16 of this charter.  This is in addition to a staff person provided in Section 2-215 of the Hawaii County Code.” 

THE EXISTING CHARTER AMENDMENT -Right now the 2% Land Fund pays only for land acquisitions. There are no staff positions that are paid out of the deposits to the Fund.

Here is the existing 2% LAND FUND AMENDMENT:

(c) Monies in this fund shall be used solely to:

(1) Purchase or otherwise acquire lands and easements in the County of 
Hawai‘i for public outdoor recreation and education, including:

    • (A) Access to beaches and mountains;
    • (B) Preservation of historic or culturally important land areas and sites;
    • (C) Protection of natural resources, significant habitat or eco-systems, 
including    buffer zones;
    • (D) Preservation of forests, beaches, coastal areas, natural beauty and 
agricultural lands; and
    • (E) Protection of watershed lands to preserve water quality and water

(2) Pay the principal, interest and premium, if any, due with respect to bonds 
issued in whole for the purpose of this fund.

THIS IS WHAT WE originally PROPOSED: a big mahalo to Commissioner Galimba!

(3) “Fund a senior staff person dedicated only to the administration of the provisions of this section, who shall be employed under the department of finance and whose duties shall include, but not be limited to: assisting the public with applications for acquisition; assisting the public access, open space and natural resources preservation commission with its prioritization of properties to be acquired; negotiation and acquisition of eligible properties; seeking and acquiring matching funds; and managing the maintenance of lands acquired by this fund, by overseeing and implementing the provisions of Section 10-16 of this charter.  This position shall be distinct from and in addition to any other positions that provide support for the provisions of this section, Section 10-16 of this charter, and Article 42 of the Hawaii County Code or any matters related thereto.”

THIS IS WHAT WAS SUBSTITUTED AT THE LAST MINUTE BY COMMISSIONER HOPKINS:

(3) “Pay for the salary, wages and benefits of staff dedicated to advancing the Activities contained within this section and Section 10-16 of this charter.”

THE PROBLEMS in the AMBIGUOUS LANGUAGE:

“STAFF” CAN MEAN ONE OR MANY STAFF PEOPLE

  • The Hopkins’s amendment says “staff” but that is ambiguous. The clause does not define how many staff members.   One, two, ten staff people? We want to make sure that only ONE staff member’s salary, wage and benefits are subtracted from the 2% Land Fund so as not to diminish the money for acquisition.
  • Right now there is one staff member provided in the Code to assist the Public Access and Open Space Commission. This is a necessary position. Our language says that this staff member will be in addition to the existing staff member. Otherwise we may be paying for at lease two “STAFF” positions, but potential more than that!  Salary, wages and benefits would be more than $100,000 per year coming out of the monies that are right now slated for acquisition.

HERE IS a new Compromising PROPOSED CHANGE FOR CA-9:

“(3) Pay for the salary, wages and benefits of one full-time staff member, employed by the Department of Finance dedicated only to advancing administering the activities contained within this section and Section 10-16 of this charter.  This is in addition to a staff person provided in Section 2-215 of the Hawaii County Code.” 

  • Real estate deals are time sensitive and require willing sellers. Willing sellers want to be paid as soon as possible because the taxes keep mounting up on property and they may have a use for the money. It also takes time for the staff people to apply for matching funds, get appraisals, do surveys and all the due diligence required for property purchases by governments. The purchase process is very different from the purchase of a home.
  • The Maintenance Fund grants have been granted to only 6 organizations in the 6-year existence of the fund. Stewardship groups say the process has been very difficult and they have had to apply several times before receiving funding. A full time staff person can assist the non-profits with getting the funding they need to care for the 2% Lands. The stewardship non-profit groups have received only 9% of all the money deposited in the Maintenance Fund from 2013.

HOW YOU CAN HELP:

Debbie Hecht, has been the Campaign Coordinator for the Save our Lands Citizens Committee and the 2% Land Fund since 2006. She and Council member Brenda Ford have written the enabling legislation.   ARE YOU ON OUR EMAIL LIST? Please contact me. Hecht.deb@gmail.com

HISTORY AND BACKGROUND

The Land Fund has been in existence since 2006 when it was approved by 63% of voters.  63% of voters  also approved the Land Fund in 2010. In 2012 votes the same 63% approved the 2% Land Fund and a Maintenance Fund to care for these lands that exists today.   There have been some great successes, but we believe there is much that can be done to improve the 2% Land Fund.   We hope you will support this legislation and testify at the Charter Commission and also when the Charter Commission goes out for public meetings in your area of the island.  Mahalo for your kokua to save Hawai’i Island’s treasured lands.

The GREAT SUCCESS OF THE 2% LAND FUND PROGRAM:

  • PROPERTIES PROPOSED BY CITIZENS FOR ACQUISITION: 180
  • PROPERTIES ACQUIRED since 2006: ONLY 14
  • LAND ACQUIRED: 4,428 acres of land acquired with an additional 2,200 acres will be acquired soon at Waikapuna in Ka’u.
  • MONEY SPENT: County of Hawaii 2% Land Fund   $ 27,389,268. Grants from Matching funds from State Legacy Land and US Fish and Wildlife $8,764,083. And $2 million from a private donor.

The Charter Commission is currently discussing 3 Charter Amendments (as of January 23, 2019)  that affect the fund:

WHAT IS THE CHARTER COMMISSION? The Charter Commission meets every 10 years to revise the Hawaii County Charter. Mayor Kim appointed all eleven members. Three of the commissioners are from the Districts of north and south Hilo, 3 of the commissioners are from south Hilo, one is from South Hilo and Kea’ au, one is from Puna, one from north Kona, one from south Kona. No one represents West Puna or District 7 North and South Kona. Eight of the commissioners are from Hilo, ONLY 3 of the Commissioners are from the west side of the island.

THE CHARTER COMMISSIONERS ARE:  William Carthage Bergin, Michelle Galimba, Paul K. Hamano, Kevin D. Hopkins, Bobby Jean Leithead Todd, Sarah H. Rice, Christopher John Imiloa Roehrig, Marcia A.K. Saquing, Donna Mae Springer, Douglass Shipman Adams, Chairperson Jennifer Zelko-Schlueter, Vice Chairperson IF YOU KNOW ANY OF OUR FELLOW CITIZENS, PLEASE TALK TO THEM.

THE REBUTTALS to the Arguments we have heard to reduce the 2% Land Fund:

Other counties have much less dedicated money for land acquisition.   That is true, Oahu and Maui have a lot larger property tax base because they have a larger population and much more property tax revenue. They also have less vacant land to save.   Kauai is almost at full development.

You are taking away money from hiring Police.         Two percent of the county tax revenue is approximately $5 to $6 million per year. In hard times, property taxes are less and the county has less money coming in and the 2% for the Land Fund is also less. The 2% Land Fund adjusts in hard times that are why it’s a percentage.  The County budget is $524 million so the 2% Land Fund amount of $5 or $6 billion is really only 1.5% of the entire revenue stream for the County of Hawaii. I’ve been running my own business for 40 years; I can cut 1.5% from my budget in 5 minutes.  WHY is THIS SUCH A BIG DEAL?

More than half the land on the Big Island is in Conservation, why do we need to buy more land?” asked Commissioner Roehrig.  That is true, but it is zoned Conservation.  Properties zoned Conservation were rezoned and beach access limited at the big hotels in Waikoloa and at Kohanaiki, Mauna Lani, O’oma and Kukio The Four Seasons.  Zoning does NOT protect land!

In the case of a natural disaster the County should be able to take these funds.  The County of Hawaii has earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, high winds and hurricanes.  The County government is supposed to care for Citizen’s Safety.    The County of Hawaii has a Disaster Relief Fund for this purpose.  The real problem is that the Mayor and Council raid this fund to balance the budget.  This was evident in the recent lava flow disaster, when there was little money to cover the costs.

We have to delete the Perpetuity clause, in case we have to sell land because we cannot take care of it, said by Mayor Harry Kim in addressing the Charter Commission. See the link below to the video. The perpetuity clause says: “This property (or easement) was acquired with money from the Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Fund.  It shall be held in perpetuity for the use and enjoyment of the people of Hawai’i County and may not be sold, mortgaged, traded or transferred in any way.”   WHY would anyone or any group donate matching funds if they knew the land they helped purchase could be sold and the money put into the General Fund to balance the budget.

We can’t take care of all this land; we should sell some to the National Parks so they can take care of it.  I heard the Mayor say this, it’s recorded in a Big Island Video clip. Doesn’t Mayor Kim know we have a Maintenance Fund for exactly his purpose? The County is currently collaborating with the National Park Service for both the Kahuku property and on the Waikapuna property, which is under contract in Ka’u. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park helps to manage the Kahuku property. The Ala Kahakai Trail Association in conjunction with the National Park Service’s Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail has a management plan for the King’s Trail or Ala Kahakai Trail that runs 175 miles from Upolu Point near Hawi to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The State of Hawaii Legacy Lands program frequently donates money to purchase properties.

VIDEO SHOWING Mayor Harry Kim WANTING TO TAKE THE FUND: http://www.bigislandvideonews.com/2017/02/09/video-mayor-kim-wants-to-reduce-two-percent-land-fund/

Harry Kim talks about reducing the fund and raising taxes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEAwuvjmv50

PROCESS of CHARTER AMENDMENTS:  STAY TUNED!

  1. SUBMIT Charter amendments have to  a Charter Commissioner to be considered.
  2.  The Charter Commission then DEBATE The proposed amendments are debated and if they are approved move on to
  3. FIRST READING.  If a majority votes no, then the proposed amendment dies, If they are approved at first reading (sometimes with amendments) then the proposed charter amendments are presented at
  4. PUBLIC MEETINGS-  public meetings (please attend these when they are in your area).
  5.  Ideas  by the public may then be incorporated into the proposed charter amendments to be reconsidered at the Charter Commission
  6. SECOND READING- The Charter Commission votes  again at Second Reading
  7. COUNTY COUNCIL -those amendment that passed 2nd reading go to County Council for 2 or 3 readings.
  8. The process must be finished by August 19
  9. APPEAR ON THE BALLOT FOR NOVEMBER 2020

SiGN UP TO BE KEPT INFORMED: hecht.deb@gmail.com

QUICK HISTORY OF THE LEGISLATION FROM 2005 to 2018:

  1. Where did the 2% amount come from?   In 2004 and early 2005 Sammie Stanbro-Olson donated money to the Trust for Public Lands (TPL) for a survey of Hawaii County residents to ask if they would approve a 1% or 2% Land Fund as a ballot measure. A large majority of residents said they would want a 2% Land Fund because land is so expensive on the Big Island.
  2. The Save Our Lands Citizen’s Committee Petition Initiative drive collected 9,600 signatures from April to July of 2006. This was during Harry Kim’s first term. Mayor Kim was adamantly against setting aside 2% of property taxes for land acquisition, even though this is only1.5% of the total income for the County.   County Clerk Connie Kiriu and County Counsel Lincoln Ashida disqualified almost 6,000 signatures for leaving off Pl, St. or Rd, or if husband and wife used ditto marks for their address when signing under each other or if the year was left off, (we collected signatures from May to July so it was only during 2005 which made the year implied and irrelevant).
  3. We needed 4,400 signatures to get the measure on the ballot, but because of the disqualifications we didn’t get enough. The County Council at Chair Stacy Higa’s request, decided to place the 2% ballot measure on the ballot for 2006 anyway.
  4. Despite the Corporation Counsel submitting confusing ballot language using double negatives, the amendment to the Code passed by 63% of voters who voted on the issue and become part of the Hawaii County Code.
  5. In 2008- As the his first piece of legislation, Mayor Kenoi and the County Council suspended deposits to the Fund for two years. This was possible because the legislation was part of the Hawaii County Code. The Save Our Lands Citizens’ Committee pointed out that there were more than 260 funded but unfilled jobs in his budget (costing $14 million), which were then cut, but Mayor Kenoi failed to reinstate payments to the 2% Land Fund after cutting these budget entries.
  6. In 2010, the Charter Commission put the Land Fund on the ballot again, but only as the 1% Land Fund.  Again the Land Fund passed by 63% of voters, who voted on the measure. The Save Our Lands Committee supported this because it was a charter amendment and could only be overturned by a vote of the people. We wouldn’t have to sit in budget hearings each year.
  7. In 2012, to honor all the people who signed the petitions and worked so hard over the years, we realized we needed to put the 2% Land Fund back on the ballot as a Charter Amendment, together with a 1/4% Maintenance Fund. We wanted to make sure the Council and Mayor couldn’t stop deposits. A charter amendment can only be undone by a vote of the people.  Again, 63% of voters approved both measures. As part of the 2% Land Fund legislation, every property obtained with our taxpayer funds shall have a covenant that runs with the land that states: “This property (or easement) was acquired with money from the Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Fund.  It shall be held in perpetuity for the use and enjoyment of the people of Hawai’i County and may not be sold, mortgaged, traded or transferred in any way.” This has already blocked a potential land trade with the State of Hawaii.
  8. The Maintenance Fund was clarified in the Hawaii County Code in 2016 to allow the PONC Commission to review Stewardship Grants and to recommend which grants to approve to the Director of Finance.

 

 

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