Kauai's Safe-Room Tax Break is First in Nation: Storm Shelters Can Shave Off $200 in Taxes

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This article is reprinted with permission of Kauai World.

Lihu'e, November 24, 2000 – Kaua'i County is the first municipality in the country to give residents property tax breaks for adding hurricane-resistant rooms to their homes.

A sporty steel model which can double as a storage shed in calm weather and be erected in one afternoon can be yours for between $4,000 and $8,000.

And an average homeowner can save between $150 and $200 on his tax bill by installing a "safe room" within a home, if it meets county specifications.

The county's trailblazing has gained the attention of James Witt, director of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). Witt mentioned the County Council and Mayor Maryanne Kusaka's initiative at a Project Impact Summit in Washington, D.C. earlier this month, according to Mark Marshall, Kaua'i Civil Defense administrator.

Marshall said 1,600 people attended the summit. Project Impact is a FEMA effort to encourage communities and individuals to prevent or minimizing damage in the case of catastrophic weather. Federal studies show that for every dollar spent in mitigation efforts, $2 is saved through less property damage after a tornado, hurricane, flooding or other act of God.

On Kaua'i, some homeowners may qualify for county loans to assist in the installation of safe rooms, with money at between 1 percent and 5 percent interest.

A pair of FEMA publications have information on specifications for qualifying safe rooms. The first is Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room For Your Home or Small Business (FEMA P-320). It is available through the FEMA Library or can be ordered by calling FEMA toll-free at 1-888-565-3896.

The complete document includes basics of in-house safe-room shelter design, construction plans, materials and mainland construction-cost estimates.

The other document is FEMA P-361, the first edition of Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms. It also describes shelters "intended to provide near-absolute protection from the high winds expected during tornadoes and hurricanes and from associated flying debris, such as wood studs, that tornadoes and hurricanes usually create," according to the FEMA Web site.

Unlike the small, in-residence shelters addressed by FEMA P-320, the shelters described in FEMA P-361 are designed to protect large numbers of people, such as occupants of an office building or the residents of a community.

Residential safe rooms in most cases mandate new construction, according to Doug Haigh, chief of the Department of Public Works' Building Division.

A claim form for safe-room exemption is available at the county Department of Finance Real Property Assessment Division, for rooms in homes not in tsunami inundation, flood or surge zones, or portions of the island susceptible to flooding, explained Eugene Jimenez, deputy director of finance.

A certification of design and construction, signed by a licensed architect or structural engineer, is needed to let the county know that the safe room is, indeed, safe, Haigh said.

Last Updated: 
07/24/2014 - 16:00
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