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Opinion: A proposal to bring Fuel Tax Revenue (FTR) into private subdivisions for road maintenance

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Your Tax Dollars Not at Work
How Mayor Kenoi’s Appeal for TAT Supports Puna’s Appeal for FTR

Most people are vaguely aware of paying tax on their gasoline purchases and that the taxes are used to maintain the roads they drive on. However, what they may not realize is that these taxes haven’t been used to maintain all the roads they drive on – just some of them. If you live and drive in any one of a number of private subdivisions on the Big Island you pay the fuel taxes but you do not receive full benefit of them.

This is the center point of a bill to be proposed in council by District 1 Councilman Dominic Yagong. Recently, as then Chairman of the Finance Committee, Councilman Yagong was approached by Friends of Puna’s Future (FoPF) with a proposal to create a grant-in-aid program to benefit the nonprofit community organizations bearing the responsibility and financial weight of maintaining the roads in their subdivisions.

The logic of the bill goes like this:

Fuel Tax Revenue (FTR) is charged on every gallon and is intended for the maintenance of roads in our county. But for decades the funds have only been used for some of the roads, not all of them. FoPF views this as a issue of tax fairness. Thousands of Big Island residents live within private subdivisions created by the county at the time of statehood. There are hundreds of miles of such roads with no county funding. Those who drive on these roads pay fuel taxes but fail to get the benefit of those taxes for their roads. Residents, tourists, police, fire and emergency vehicles all use these roadways — but the homeowners associations are left on their own to deal with the entirety of road maintenance.

Mayor Billy Kenoi recently made a similar argument to the state government regarding the TAT (or hotel tax). Mayor Kenoi maintains that the County is rightfully due a share of the TAT funds collected by the State in exchange for shouldering a large portion of the maintenance burden of tourism. Likewise FoPF says that since the county collects FTR taxes for road maintenance and private subdivisions carry the cost burden of keeping their roads maintained for everyone, – the subdivisions are due a share of FTR funds. As Mayor Kenoi says regarding TAT – It’s only fair.

FoPF is proposing that the Public Works Department be instructed by council to fund a Grant-in-Aid program. Nonprofit organizations with road maintenance responsibilities could apply for cash grants in a simple process which would be completed in ninety days or less. The funds would not be allowed for acquisition of land for new roads. Under no circumstances would county work crews be expected to perform maintenance on private subdivisions roads. The nonprofits would have full discretion in allocating the funds for road surfacing, road base, shoulders, signage and safety.

There is a history of FTR funds not being fully used by the county year by year. This has resulted in a carry-over of funds from one year’s budget to the next. For example, a total of $4.6 million dollars of fuel tax allotments for the entire island from 1994 – 2004 lapsed and had to be re-appropriated. This is appalling considering the conditions of our County roadways. Having to carry over and re-appropriate fuel tax funds is not productive when one considers the struggle of private subdivisions to maintain these roads – roads which were established by acts of council and are open to everyone’s use.

Please call FoPF at 965-1555 or email to friendsofpuna1@mail.com or visit www.fopf.org

Rob Tucker
Puna

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