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Council advances bill to defer property tax for pandemic-stricken Hawaii businesses

                                A Kalakaua Avenue sidewalk is all but deserted on April 3.


    A Kalakaua Avenue sidewalk is all but deserted on April 3.

A bill that would allow coronavirus-impacted businesses to hold off paying their property taxes passed the Honolulu City Council’s first hurdle last week.

The bill was one of several measures adopted by Council members at its meeting Wednesday aimed at helping businesses and people negatively affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Bill 41, introduced by Council members Carol Fukunaga and Ann Kobayashi, would allow eligible owners of businesses to defer paying property taxes for an undefined period of time. The bill now goes to the Council Budget Committee for more deliberation.

To be eligible, business owners would be required to demonstrate that they were either forced to close because of the emergency, or allowed the businesses on the property that were closed during the emergency period to defer paying their leases or rents during that time.

The Hawaii Food Industry Association submitted testimony in support of the bill.

“The vast majority of Honolulu businesses will be drastically negatively impacted by this pandemic,” said Lauren Zirbel, the group’s executive director. “Some local businesses have already closed permanently and there will likely be more.”

Rick Egged, president of the Waikiki Improvement Association, wants the Council to waive altogether the second allotment of taxes owed by Oahu’s commercial and resort property owners. Those taxes are supposed to be paid each August.

“The monies that would’ve allowed us to pay those property tax bills in August just isn’t going to be there this year,” Egged said, noting that revenues are near zero.

Egged estimated a waiver would cost the city about $115 million in projected property tax revenues. While a complete waiver would be preferred, “if that’s not possible some sort of a reduction or extension.”

Council members meanwhile introduced and adopted six resolutions aimed at blunting the impacts caused by the outbreak.

>> Resolution 20-85, urging the Caldwell administration to streamline building permit application review and approval process. The measure, introduced by Councilwoman Kym Pine, drew support from a number of engineers and architects that regularly obtain building permits from the Department of Planning and Permitting.

>>Resolution 20-86, calling on the mayor to use his emergency powers to provide emergency housing and public health facilities. The resolution, introduced by Pine and Council Chairman Ikaika Anderson, wants the administration to construct Kauhale (tiny house) villages, mobile structures, mobile hygiene centers and quarantine facilities to provide assistance to the homeless or others in need of shelter.

>>Resolution 20-93, voicing support for the state Department of Health initiative to “aggressively expand COVID-19 testing and provide adequate staffing for enhanced tracking for people who have been in contact with infected persons. The measure, introduced by Council members Ron Menor and Tommy Waters, also calls for more testing of asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic individuals.

>> Resolution 20-94, urging big box stores and other retail establishments to implement more aggressive measures at their stores to limit the spread of COVID-19 among customers. Menor, who also introduced the measure with Waters, said he introduced the measure after receiving complaints from constituents who reported that big box stores have not been practicing proper social distancing.

>> Resolution 20-95, calling on President Donald Trump to ban all nonessential travel to Hawaii and for the local tourism industry and accommodations to stop activities aimed at bringing visitors to Hawaii while it’s under a state of emergency. Menor, who introduced the measure with Waters, said there continues to be an alarming number of people arriving to Hawaii’s shores. Caldwell and two of the three other county mayors earlier sent a similar plea to the president but have not yet heard back.

>> Resolution 20-96, introduced by Menor, requesting Gov. David Ige to institute a moratorium on commercial and residential tenant evictions and homeowner foreclosures. On Friday, Ige signed an mergency proclamation that includes a moratorium prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants on residential rental and leased properties, but not commercial ones.

All nine members of the Council attended Wednesday’s meeting wearing cloth facial cover masks. Members of the public could watch the proceedings from a television monitor just outside the chambers, and were allowed to enter the room only when it was their turn to testify.

Anderson said that Council members wishing to participate at the May 6 Council meeting will be able to do so.

Common Cause Hawaii and several individuals raised objections that the Council does not allow for public testimony to be given remotely.

Anderson told the Star-Advertiser after the meeting that his staff is looking into the feasibility of allowing remote testimony.

“But there’s a lot of small issues we need to figure out first,” he said. That includes safeguarding against the potential for people to “call in and be disruptive for the sake of being disruptive,” Anderson said.

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

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