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Maui Council passes bill to encourage active agriculture : Maui Now

Council member Gabe Johnson. PC: courtesy 2023

The Maui County Council on Friday passed on second and final reading Bill 103, CD1 (2023) to encourage active agricultural use on land left fallow by landowners, Council member Gabe Johnson announced.

Johnson, who introduced the bill, said the intention is to create property-tax tiers so landowners of agricultural-zoned land are incentivized to farm or ranch.

“One of the biggest challenges faced by emerging farmers is access to land and water,” Johnson said. “Bill 103 allows the mechanism of tiered tax structures to incentivize owners of fallow ag land to give favorable leases to farmers and ranchers, contributing to food security and creating economic opportunity.”

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The bill also requires the Department of Finance to work with the Department of Agriculture when verifying that land dedicated to agriculture is actually being farmed.

“After the Aug. 8 fires, fallow agricultural land in the county is also rightly the subject of renewed concern,” said Johnson, who chairs the Agriculture, Diversification, Environment and Public Transportation Committee. “It’s always been important to ensure agricultural land is productive and supporting the people of this county with food sovereignty and jobs. But the fires made it clear that keeping agriculture land active is also important for fire safety and prevention.”

Johnson said the University of Hawaiʻi Economic Research Organization identified an abundance of highly flammable non-native grasses on unmanaged former plantation land as a root cause of the Aug. 8 Lahaina fires. The Hawaiʻi Wildfire Management Organization and the Maui County Cost of Government Commission, in their reports on wildfires on Maui, also cited the risk posed by unmanaged agricultural land.

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“Bill 103 is a first step to address these risks by giving the council the ability to incentivize active agriculture through taxation,” Johnson said.

The Department of Finance recommended an amendment to the bill at the Nov. 21 Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee meeting, which passed unanimously, to allow the county to create tax tiers for all real property tax classifications—including the agricultural real property tax classification.

“I fully support the progressive amendment to tier all real property tax classifications, especially after the fires, as a way to gain more revenue for our county from the highest-valued tiers,” Johnson said.

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To provide input on local agricultural policy, contact Johnson’s office at [email protected] or 808-270-8071.

In-person, online and phone testimony is also welcome at all meetings. Testimony instructions are on the meeting agendas.

Source: Maui News

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