HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Mufi Hannemann cleared up some confusion Friday night over an extraordinary tax hike.
Longtime residents are seeing their property fees quadruple. But Hannemann says, as Mayor, he had nothing to do with it.
Hannemann says the city's tax division is responsible for the tax hike.
"I love Kalihi. It's my hometown. No way I'd treat you differently than other parts of the island," said Hannemann, defending himself at a televised debate with his rival, Abercrombie.
The jabs came a day after Honolulu Council Member Romy Cachola alerted the media about the residents in Kalihi who were slapped with five-figure tax bills, after the land classification for their properties was changed from Residential, to Industrial/Commercial.
"The Mayor doesn't have discretion on classification. There's a bill that Romy Cachola and others supported that will address this short time gap in terms of the higher taxes that are being paid. And the Council has a solution that's supported whole heartedly by the Administration. Nothing could be further than the truth and it's unfortunate that a council member who is your strong political supporter is again trying to make political hay of the situation," said Hannemann to Abercrombie at the debate.
"Once again, Mr. Hannemann never takes responsibility when something goes wrong. He blames others. Now it's Mr. Cachola. It's the City Council, when the plain fact of the matter is this happened during the Hannemann Administration. Either he knew about it and approved of it or he didn't know about it. And his whole campaign is based on executive experience and competence. If that's an example of competence, I leave you to be the judge," said Abercrombie.
No matter who's to blame, about 250 homeowners on Oahu, including Kalihi, are still stuck with a massive bill.
Among those affected is 89-year-old Rosita Macabeo. Her bill went up from $2400 last year, to nearly $12,000 this year.
The city is offering some tax relief, but it's not exactly what residents were hoping for.
Earlier in the afternoon, acting Honolulu Mayor, Kirk Caldwell, said the city will offer a re-payment plan that allows residents to pay in installments.
"We're allowing people to pay over time based on their needs and income," said Caldwell.
But that means residents like Macabeo must still eventually pay the entire amount.
"Can they make it reduced please? That's what I'm only asking, to reduce," pleaded Macabeo.
Cachola says the history of the tax hike dates back to the 70's, when Kalihi was re-zoned from Residential to Industrial/Commercial.
But past Administrations still charged residents the residential rate.
Last year, the Honolulu Department of Budget and Fiscal Services Real Property Assessment Division decided to re-classify and enforce the industrial rate, from $3.42 to $12.40 per $1000 of assessed value.
"So this was a decision made by the tax assessors," said Caldwell.
Budget and Fiscal Services Director, Rix Maurer, could not be reached on Friday, to see if the policy change had to be signed off by then-Mayor Hannemann.
In July, the Council passed a bill that allows residents to dedicate their homes back to residential, but it's for next year's property tax.
The deadline to file dedication forms for fiscal year 2010-2011 is September 1st.
As for the re-payment plan, bills are due on Monday, so homeowners must contact the city's tax division immediately to sign up for the installment program and avoid paying the full amount.
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