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Washington County board OKs stand-by vehicle fee

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Washington County car and truck owners may have to pay a new $30 local vehicle registration fee in addition to their statewide fee, but only if state lawmakers fail to raise $8.1 million more for work on county-maintained roads and bridges.Washington County car and truck owners will face a stand-by local vehicle registration fee in addition to their statewide fee.

But as Washington County commissioners approved it Tuesday night (Sept. 20), the local fee will take effect in mid-2018 only if state lawmakers fail to raise $8.1 million more for work on county-maintained roads and bridges.

Lawmakers visited Hillsboro the previous day as part of their effort to develop funding recommendations for their 2017 session.

“We have a fallback position in the county if the state does not come through with funding,” said Hillsboro resident Blaine Ackley, who noted that a recent weight-limitation notice on a county bridge will affect him directly.

A local fee of $30 annually would raise a projected $13.5 million in its first full year, starting July 1, 2018. Under state law, the county would retain 60 percent ($8.1 million) and cities would share the other 40 percent ($5.4 million).

For Hillsboro, that would be $1.6 million annually; Beaverton, $1.5 million; Tigard, $800,000; Tualatin, $390,000; Forest Grove, $380,000; Sherwood, $310,000.

The state Division of Motor Vehicle Services (DMV) would collect the local fee every other year, when owners pay the statewide annual fee of $43.

Washington County would be the second in Oregon to impose such a fee. Multnomah County did so in 2011 with a $19 fee to help pay for the new Sellwood Bridge. Both counties also have small local fuel taxes — 1 cent in Washington County, 3 cents in Multnomah County.

Under Oregon law, fuel taxes and vehicle fees can be spent only on road and bridge work.

Higher amount fails

The $30 is less than the legal maximum of $43 recommended by two citizen panels, several chambers of commerce and the Westside Economic Alliance.

Commissioner Greg Malinowski proposed to set it at $43.

He did so after hearing from Dave Schamp, operations and maintenance division manager in the county Land Use and Transportation Department, who said 81 of the 184 county-maintained bridges are rated as deficient – and that 15 have weight limits, eight of them posted since Jan. 1 of this year. One such bridge, at 227th Avenue in the Rock Creek area, was posted a day before the hearing.

“My concern is that we have more bad bridges than we thought,” Malinowski said. “We will be able to use every nickel well” for the next decade.

But county voters rejected a $30 fee in a close 2014 election.

“Mindful of the past vote and trying to strike a moderate balance, I will be supporting $30,” Commissioner Dick Schouten said. “But we are going to keep our ears and eyes open and this could be revisited in a couple of years.”

Malinowski joined the other commissioners, including Chairman Andy Duyck, Roy Rogers and Bob Terry, on the vote to approve $30.

“The years of constrained maintenance spending are catching up with us,” said Bonnie Hadley, who leads both the county budget committee and the Urban Roads Maintenance District advisory committee.

“For the price of one grande latte per month for each car registered in Washington County, we can support roads, bridges and culverts that can be relied upon. It is critical that we not let these facilities fall into disrepair.”

She was among those who argued for the higher $43 fee, which would have cost $3.58 per month, instead of the $2.50 in the board-approved plan.

Lars Wahlstrom, who leads the Rural Roads Operations and Maintenance Advisory Committee, said his panel has been unable to squeeze additional savings from county road work.

“It is more fiscally responsible to maintain the facilities we have than to replace them when they fail,” Frank Angelo said on behalf of the Westside Economic Alliance.

Also among those speaking for the fee were representatives of the Beaverton and Tualatin chambers, Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey and a spokesman for Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle.

Worsening trend

During a presentation preceding the public hearing, Schamp said that the pavement condition index for the 1,300 miles of county-maintained roads has dropped from an average of 89 in 2004 to 76 last year — on the edge of “fair” — and is the worst he has seen in his 25 years with the county.

He said it would take $4 million more annually to bring that condition back to “good,” plus $6.5 million to repair or replace 54 aging culverts, and $120 million for work on bridges.

He said a culvert on Timber Road two miles north of the Wilson River Highway — washed out in the December 2015 storm — cost the county a total of $400,000 for temporary and permanent replacements.

Bob Grover is chairman of the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce and also owner of Pacific Landscape Management, which has 75 vehicles, all subject to the county fee. But he supports the fee.

“Maintaining roads has a price measured in dollars,” he said. “Not maintaining roads has a price measured in safety.”

That view was echoed by Chief Mike Duyck of Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue.

“Delaying road maintenance is like delaying the new batteries in a smoke alarm. In both cases, you are betting that nothing will happen. But what happens when you lost the bet?” Chief Duyck asked.

“I understand that safety measures cost money. But not implementing safety measures can cost lives.”