Maui County is well into the budget season. The administration put forward a beautiful budget document, available on the county's website, with pictures, charts, graphs, coding details and explanations to better help readers understand the administration's proposal. Having held many meetings across the island to gain public input on the budget, the County Council is now getting down to the finer points. Both the administration and Council should be commended for their tremendous efforts thus far.
Each element contained in the entire county budget impacts the lives of every resident in terms of our economic climate, services available and received, how much we pay in taxes to provide those services, and our quality of life. We share our thoughts on two specific areas here: funding of the county's Office of Economic Development and the proposed real property tax increase for many businesses.
Regarding the county's Office of Economic Development budget, we lend our full support. This office, under the leadership of Mayor Alan Arakawa and Economic Development Coordinator Teena Rasmussen, is on fire when it comes to generating and contributing to economic activity in Maui County. They have been supporting existing worthwhile programs like the annual Fourth of July Fireworks event in Lahaina and bringing back organized activities for Halloween in Lahaina, as well as creating new events like Four Fridays that engage residents and visitors to visit our small towns in Wailuku, Lahaina, Paia and Makawao to enjoy the charm and unique businesses found in these towns. The Office of Economic Development also is maximizing rare opportunities to heighten Maui's returns. The office hit the ground running to prepare for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference held last November to best position Maui before the attending economic leaders and then actively worked to create a new sister-city relationship with Goyang City in South Korea. The office took advantage of the statewide opportunity to participate in the Philadelphia Flower Show. Its 2012 theme was "Hawaii - Islands of Aloha" and joined other counties across the state in taking local flower growers and manufactures there to expand markets for Maui-made-and-grown products. Businesses are praising the office for its efforts, and we appreciate our partnership with office staffers and congratulate them on their success.
We feel their budget expansion to include a film commissioner is a good move because the film industry is a major industry that can benefit our existing businesses, in addition to developing new businesses. A robust film industry is a great option for generating more jobs and elevating other industries across the county.
We also encourage funding to strengthen the Sister Cities program to build stronger relationships around the globe and to create or build upon established international markets. Further, we support funding through this office that supports agriculture and related promotional programs, including funding for the Maui County Farm Bureau, along with funding for the Maui Economic Development Board for workforce development.
There is real concern about the proposed real property tax rate increases for businesses. While we understand that the proposed rates are based on the "taxpayer's levy remaining neutral" and appreciate that, the concern is that the business sector (commercial, industrial, hotels and time shares) have long paid a disproportionate share of taxes and experienced high increases over homeowner rates.
With the lowest homeowner real property tax rates in the nation, we feel a more balanced system is needed. Additionally, time shares continue to be hard hit, and we need to remember how they helped sustain our economy when fewer visitors were coming. They buffer our economy when times are toughest and help us survive. Therefore, we ask that the real property tax rates for businesses be held until a more equitable system is established.
* Pamela Tumpap is president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce.