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Wednesday, April 23, 2014         

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EZ program still beneficial despite loss of tax benefits

By Erika Engle

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Two major benefits of becoming an Enterprise Zone business will evaporate — with some exceptions — for at least two years beginning Friday.

However, the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and county governments are nevertheless encouraging eligible businesses to apply.

The joint state-and-county Enterprise Zone Partnership was created to stimulate job creation and preservation as well as the overall economy by reducing the costs of doing business, Wayne Thom, community economic development manager with DBEDT, said at a workshop Tuesday. EZ benefits are good for seven years, with three-year eligibility extensions also available.

One of the program’s main incentives was the 100-percent exemption from general excise tax for participants each year. Another was a 100-percent GET exemption for licensed contractors and subcontractors who do work within an Enterprise Zone or for an EZ-qualified business. Those savings also would be realized by the eligible landlord or EZ business that contracted the work.

But because of Act 105, which was signed into law by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, those benefits will be suspended effective Friday through June 30, 2013, for businesses not enrolled in the EZ program by Thursday. Existing EZ businesses will not be affected by the benefit suspension, providing they continue to meet certain program requirements, officials said at the workshop.

For new enrollees, Thom said other benefits still exist at the state and county levels, and that the two-year GET benefit suspension still leaves five years of those benefits in the future.

A handful of businesses were among the two dozen attendees at the DBEDT workshop on both the Enterprise Zone program and on doing business with the military commissaries and exchanges at the Koolau Ballrooms.

Despite the loss of the GET exemptions, the program still is worthwhile, said Gwendolyn Purdy, vice president of Purdyco International Ltd., which does business as Island Princess, Maui’s Best and Island Machine Services.

EZ businesses will continue to receive a nonrefundable 80 percent state income tax credit the first year, which declines by 10 percent each year for the next six years. EZ businesses also receive an additional nonrefundable state income tax credit equal to 80 percent of unemployment insurance premiums paid the first year, which also declines by 10 percent each year for the next six years.

“Unemployment is so high right now that this is a great benefit,” Purdy said.

Business owners might think the paperwork to get into and to subsequently comply with the program is prohibitive, but “the paperwork is so nominal,” Purdy said.

Every piece of information sought on EZ forms is information businesses already have to have.

Island Taylor LLC is a newly qualified EZ business that provides food service equipment such as soft-serve frozen dessert dispensers and pressure-fryers to restaurants. “If the colonel (Colonel Sanders of KFC fame) had used our equipment, he’d have been a general,” laughed John Ribando, managing partner.

He attended the workshop to get answers to some lingering questions about the benefits to his Kapolei Kai-based business, which operates on land the company purchased. Island Taylor will enjoy a two-year exemption from any property tax increase resulting from new construction, and should it need building or grading permits in the next seven years, it will be exempt from paying fees for the permits.

Business owners can check maps available online to get a general idea whether their business is in an Enterprise Zone or a census tract that is eligible for inclusion in the EZ. Once an application is submitted, officials will verify eligibility using a business’s address or tax map key number.

EZ businesses that have contracts with licensed contractors signed before Friday for construction projects due to commence at a later date are still eligible for the GET exemption, as are subcontractors and change orders covered under the original signed contract, said Mark Yee of the state Department of Taxation.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Advertiser. Reach her by email at erika@staradvertiser.com.





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