- Associated Press - Friday, May 16, 2014

HILO, Hawaii (AP) - In an effort to collect more taxes from people who don’t qualify, Hawaii County is scrutinizing properties where residents claim exemptions as homeowners or as farmers.

The county’s Real Property Tax Division next month will begin sending letters to homes where the owner has died or moved, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Friday (http://bit.ly/1jRboJM). People who claim homeowner’s exemptions on a property must use it as a primary residence and can’t use it for short-term rentals.

The county recently compared data from the Department of Health against a list of homeowner’s exemptions. It found that 1,200 dead people were still receiving the exemption. Some property owners had been dead for 10 years.

A homeowner’s exemption knocks $40,000 of value off a property’s assessment, lowering its tax burden. Elderly or disabled homeowners can claim even larger breaks.

Real Property Tax Administrator Stan Sitko and his staffers will also be looking for evidence of crops on aerial photos of properties that claim agricultural exemptions. If they don’t see any farming, they’ll follow up with a visit. Landowners who can’t justify their exemption will be charged at the higher tax rate the next year.

“If there is visible activity, we give them a pass at this time,” Sitko said. “We’re cleaning out those that aren’t there at all.”

The work will be done in phases, spread throughout the county.

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Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/