POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 08, 2011
A secularist group is asking Mayor Peter Carlisle to investigate and end the long-standing practice of allowing churches to receive free garbage pickup.
"The Hawaii Constitution specifically prohibits taxpayer aid to religion, and thus, providing free refuse collection and disposal services to churches is decidedly unconstitutional," states the letter to Carlisle signed by Mitchell Kahle, president of Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church.
Mayor's spokeswoman Louise Kim McCoy said the letter was received yesterday, and administration officials are looking into the matter. It was not immediately known how long the practice has been allowed.
She noted the refuse collection and disposal fees apply only to businesses and that churches, schools, hospitals and charitable organizations all qualify for exemptions under the law.
Kahle said he began investigating the matter recently when he noticed city garbage trucks making collections twice a week at the church across the street from his residence.
He said he was bringing it to the city's attention in light of recent comments by City Council Chairman Nestor Garcia, who has said the Council will examine all potential sources of funding — including user fees for services — as the city attempts to tackle the upcoming budget.
"I'm not demanding they charge back fees to reclaim lost revenue," Kahle said. "We just need to correct it and move forward."
Kahle noted that with 849 churches on Oahu, "it is reasonable to assume" the city is missing out on as much as $1 million annually.
Under county ordinance, private residences do not pay refuse collection or disposal fees. Most condominiums, because of restrictions on where city trucks can go, contract with private collection companies.
Businesses are subject to fees starting at $75 per 90-gallon collection cart, with a minimum charge of $75 per month.
Kahle inquired with the city and said he was told the exemption for churches is not spelled out in law, but that the practice has traditionally been allowed.
The ordinance carves out an exemption for qualified, tax-exempt charitable organizations. Churches qualify for the exemption under this definition, officials said.
Kahle and his group have been behind other efforts to clearly define the line between government and religion, including a push to stop religious-themed invocations before state and county legislative sessions.
Kahle was arrested in April for disrupting a Senate invocation. He was acquitted of disorderly conduct in November and is now suing the Senate and state sheriffs, alleging he was assaulted and improperly detained.