Members of the armed services will get property tax breaks if the Honolulu City Council passes a measure introduced by Chair Ernie Martin.

Under Bill 91, homeowners actively serving in the armed forces won’t be taxed on the first $120,000 of the total value of their home as long as they provide the city proof of service status.

There are other real property exemptions, such as the historic homes and credit union exemptions, that are far more generous than the $120,000 exemption that is proposed in Bill 91,” Martin said in an email. The North Shore council member did not respond to requests for an interview.

Marine Corps Base Hawaii Color Guard. 19 july 2016
Members of the Marine Corps Base Color Guard line up in Hawaii. Homeowners enlisted in the military may get property tax breaks if the council approves Bill 91. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016

Council members frequently introduce legislation to relieve or exempt certain homeowners from property taxes – the city’s main source of revenue. Most of these proposals die quickly.

Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga’s proposed break for homeowners in urban areas growing “culturally significant” fruits and flowers was never scheduled for a committee meeting, nor was Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi’s 2012 measure to exempt slaughterhouses from property taxes.

Originally introduced by Martin last October, Bill 91 appeared destined for the same fate until Councilman Trevor Ozawa, selected by Martin as Budget Committee chair following a March council shakeup, added the measure to his committee’s agenda this month.

The committee approved the measure, which is scheduled for Wednesday’s full City Council meeting.

It’s hard to say how the measure would affect city revenue. Property taxes in Honolulu are among the lowest in the nation.

Honolulu Budget Director Nelson Koyanagi said in written testimony he didn’t have figures on how many people would qualify for the exemption, but he calculated that the city would lose about $1 million for every 7,143 people granted an exemption under the bill.

In response, Martin told Civil Beat in an email that the city doesn’t spend more than $100 million of its funds every year and that money rolls over to the next year, so he said the city should be able to accommodate the loss in revenue.

He added that he comes from a family with an “extended history in military service.”

I understand the sacrifices that are being made by our soldiers and their families on behalf of our nation and believe that the exemption warrants the council’s consideration,” he said.

The Hawaii National Guard Enlisted Association worked with Martin to write the bill. The organization represents more than 4,000 enlisted army and air national guard service members.

In testimony, the organization’s president, R. Maui Quizon, called the bill “truly a well-deserved benefit.”

Councilwoman Kymberly Pine of West Oahu, whose husband is in the military, filed a disclosure of interest statement because the measure might impact her family. Pine can still vote on the measure. 

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