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Washington County sets vehicle fee in motion

Washington County commissioners have set in motion a plan to impose a vehicle registration fee to raise money for local road work.

But the proposed $30 annual fee, an amount equal to that voters rejected in 2014, would be delayed until after the Oregon Legislature ends its next regular session in mid-2017.

“The fee would not be assessed if a legislative package raises an equivalent amount for the county,” said Andrew Singelakis, county director of land use and transportation.

That amount, he added, is $8.1 million annually for only the county. He said it excludes cities or any amounts earmarked for specific state projects within the county.

In response to a question by Commissioner Dick Schouten, Singelakis said that while the $8.1 million is not earmarked for specific county projects, “We know where we can put those funds.”

Washington County maintains 1,300 miles of rural and urban roads.

What county commissioners did in late August was to instruct the county counsel to draft an ordinance to authorize the fee. The ordinance itself requires a public hearing and two meetings before the commissioners adopt it.

Among the organizations that requested county action were the Westside Economic Alliance and the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce.

“I think we can agree there is a need for this funding,” Schouten said.

Board Chairman Andy Duyck, in remarks before the meeting, said he was reluctant to raise fees, but he said the cost of maintaining roads was far less than reconstructing them once they have deteriorated to a point of no return.

Under state law, counties can impose a local fee in addition to the current statewide annual fee of $43, which is collected every other year by the state Division of Motor Vehicle Services upon registration.

Counties must share 40 percent of the local proceeds with cities; the projected amount that Washington County would keep for itself is $8.1 million annually. Cities also must use their shares for road work. They would split $5.4 million, based on population.

Only Multnomah County has a local annual registration fee at $19, which commissioners set in 2010 to help pay for the new Sellwood Bridge.

In addition to the 2014 defeat in Washington County, voters rejected local registration fees in Clackamas County in 2011 and Lane County in 2015.

Clackamas County commissioners considered referring a local annual registration fee of $25, but voters on Nov. 8 will decide instead on a local fuel tax of 6 cents per gallon added to the statewide tax of 30 cents.

Multnomah and Washington counties already have local fuel taxes, and Portland voters approved a 10-cent tax that starts in September.

State lawmakers in 2015 failed to come up with more money for roads and other transportation projects amid a dispute over whether a newly enacted low-carbon fuel standard would increase fuel prices.

But a joint legislative committee has been meeting around the state to lay the groundwork for potential legislation in the 2017 session, which opens Jan. 9. The committee has scheduled a meeting Sept. 19 at the Hillsboro Civic Center.

If the Legislature acts in its 2017 session, which ends in mid-year, the new taxes and fees would likely start in 2018.