Broaden property tax relief for Maui wildfire victims

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the Maui County Council on Oct. 31, 2023.

Oct. 31, 2023, 9 a.m.
Maui County Council Chamber
Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee

Comments on Bill 95 (2023)

Aloha Chair Sugimura and Vice-Chair Kama, 

Thank you for considering Bill 95 (2023), which would exempt from the Maui County property tax all residential real property in Lahaina and other residential real property that was damaged or destroyed by the fires in Kihei and Upcountry. 

It would also provide tax relief to hotel and short-term rental owners who use their properties to provide shelter to residents displaced by the fires. These exemptions and relief programs would cover fiscal years 2024 and 2025. 

Mayor Richard Bissen’s waiver of fiscal 2024 property taxes applied only to improved structures “completely destroyed” in Lahaina, Upcountry and Kihei. This waiver did not help the many owners whose properties were damaged in the fires, but they are equally deserving of tax relief, since their buildings may not be inhabitable or in a condition that is safe to use for business purposes.

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii believes providing property tax relief to residents affected by the wildfires is a good way to help residents recover. However, rather than approve Bill 95, Bill 102 would be the better option because Bill 95 does not provide tax relief to business owners. 

Many of Lahaina’s business owners lost all their sources of income to the wildfires, and like the home and rental owners in the area, they too are at risk of losing their lands to foreclosure for nonpayment of taxes. Please consider bringing these Lahaina-area business owners under the County’s tax-relief umbrella. 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Jonathan Helton
Policy Researcher
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

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