Editorial: Tax TVUs, B&Bs more; Staying ALERT with feds; Nene exits danger zone
Every Saturday, we’ll present these short-take editorials to reflect on some of the week’s news: Tax TVUs, B&Bs more; Staying ALERT with feds; Nene exits danger zone.
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Tax TVUs, B&Bs more
The City Council has approved a measure that creates a new tax category for bed-and-breakfast vacation rentals. And in June, when Council members set tax rates, the one for B&Bs will likely lock in somewhere between the hotel rate of $13.90 per $1,000 of assessed value and the residential rate, $3.50 per $1,000.
The B&B category seems a good fit for any hosted vacation rental located in a neighborhood zoned for residential. Such a property’s use is part residential and part business.
Sensibly, the rate will apply to up to 1,700 new B&B permits slated to be issued by the city, starting in October. What makes little sense is that it won’t apply to already permitted B&Bs and unhosted transient vacation units (TVUs).
Instead, under Bill 55, most of the nearly 840 rentals operating with nonconforming use certificates — secured before the city’s vacation rental moratorium went into effect in 1989 — will stay put in the residential category, where they’ve been for three decades.
While a sweet deal for these property owners, such “grandfathering” is unfair to other taxpayers. A solid argument can be made that from the get-go, vacation rentals — and especially unhosted ones — did not belong in the residential category.
Initially, the bill placed all TVUs in the hotel tax category. But the Council dropped that plan when a number of TVU operators objected to the notion of being taxed at the same rate as hotel and resort owners, estimating their property taxes would shoot up dramatically.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell should veto this bill, so the Council can craft and pass a better one. All vacation rental operators should be shouldering a rate of taxation set higher than residential.
Staying ALERT with feds
Nobody looks back on Jan. 13, 2018, with fondness. What that date may conjure instead are memories of a sudden statewide panic over a test alert that erroneously was dispatched through cell text messaging, broadcasting a nonexistent incoming missile from North Korea.
Beyond the embarrassment that caused Gov. David Ige, and the officials of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency responsible for the severe error, the false alarm delivered a damaging blow to the public confidence in HI-EMA, and generally the state’s trustworthiness to handle things of this nature.
So on balance it does seem sensible that Hawaii’s U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz took the opportunity to tack the Authenticating Local Emergencies and Real Threats (ALERT) Act onto the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act, now making its way through the Senate.
This would move the responsibility for notifying the public about such scary events from the state to the federal government where, Schatz said, the first detection of a missile threat originates anyway.
The state had been using its own civil defense system and text alerts, described in the senator’s news release as having “a poorly designed user interface” that was mistake-prone. Schatz said the feds would need to come up with something new, and must work with the state on implementing it.
It’s that federal-state communication interface that must be tight, because as isle residents know, slips can happen at multiple points. They all remember Jan. 13, 2018.
Nene exits danger zone
When has the danger truly passed for a once-endangered species? This is a question asked generally by environmental advocates but it comes up specifically in the case of Hawaii’s state bird, the nene.
The good news came last week, when the U.S. Department of the Interior took the Hawaiian goose off the endangered species list and now is categorized as “threatened.” That means its numbers have improved enough to validate the conservation efforts made for the past 60 years.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced the downlisting at the Pearl Harbor National Wildlife Refuge. The partial recovery of the nene population resulted from protective steps, such as a breeding program and restoration of the bird’s habitat.
Not all believe that the guardrails should be taken off yet — though it appears that’s what’s underway. The DOI has finalized a revision to rules so that protections are no longer automatically extended to threatened species.
The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a complaint against the department in Hawaii’s U.S. District Court over what it considers insufficient protections for various other species. Its leaders have expressed their doubts that the nene will continue to get the care it needs, either.
They have a point. After all, a “threatened” species is defined in the act as “likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future.” Without proper oversight, the goose could easily slip right back into the danger zone.