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Tigard gas tax kicks into gear

Tigard customers are paying 3 cents more per gallon but will soon be able to sign an initiative to put the issue on the ballot
by: Jaime Valdez, FILL ‘ER UP — Sami Ghaffari, owner of the Union 76 station at Pacific Highway and Walnut Street, fills up the tank of Gene Dooley, who says he supports an initiative to let voters decide if they want to keep the city’s new 3-cents-per-gallon gas tax.

TIGARD - The city's 3-cents-per-gallon gas tax kicked in Sunday with hardly a whimper from motorists.

'I heard about it and choked,' said Tigard resident John Havery on Monday morning as he stopped for a fill-up at the Union 76 station at the intersection of Pacific Highway and Walnut Street. 'But where else can you go? It's not worth it to drive 30 or 40 miles for cheaper gas. It's a pain in the behind to have to drive elsewhere.'

Local gas station owners are planning to start collecting signatures to put an initiative on the November ballot to repeal the gas tax, and Havery said, 'I'll sign it and vote for it. The city should go to the state for more money.'

Gene Dooley, who also purchased gas at the 76 station, noted, 'I don't like (the gas tax), and I'll be signing it. It just happened that I got caught short (on gas) and had to buy it here. Otherwise, I might have gone elsewhere. I travel some for business, and gas is high enough everywhere.'

However, another customer who didn't want to give his name added, '(Prices are) so volatile right now - what's 3 cents when you're paying $3?'

Actually, Union 76 customers were not paying the tax, as station owner Sami Ghaffari decided that he would pay it himself until he received his next load of fuel.

'I don't want to take advantage of anyone,' said Ghaffari, who usually gets his tanks filled three times a week.

The City Council adopted the tax in early December to fund improvements to the Pacific Highway/Greenburg Road/Main Street intersection, which are estimated to cost $4.5 million. The improvements will be made at the same time that the nearby Pacific Highway/Hall Boulevard intersection is revamped in 2008 and funded by Washington County's MSTIP program.

The gas tax, which was recommended to the council by a citizens' task force, will automatically end once $5 million is raised or on Dec. 31, 2011, whichever comes first.

'I have interviewed people, and they are not happy about this tax because they didn't have a chance to vote on it,' Ghaffari said. 'The city should consider going to the state instead, but they like to come here and take it from us. This is going to hurt Tigard businesses. Local business owners aren't happy about it because they might lose business too.

'If people go elsewhere to buy gas, then they might eat other places too. I talked to the City Council. I said, 'We're not the only business in Tigard. I know the city needs money, but it should be a citywide tax. That would be the most fair.' In the next election, the City Council could lose their jobs.'

In January, local station owners got together and started a petition drive to put the gas tax on the May ballot, with signatures being collected at most of the 14 gas stations in Tigard.

However, not enough valid signatures were gathered by the deadline.

'Most of my customers were willing to sign it - I'd say 99 percent,' Ghaffari said. 'Pacific Highway is a state problem, not a city problem. The city should push the state for more funds.'

Ghaffari said that he plans to absorb part of the gas tax himself.

'I'm not going to pass on the whole amount,' he said. 'Maybe I'll charge the customers 1 cent and I'll pay the other 2 cents or do it half and half. It's not fair to the customers. I think this could affect our volume. The city is really not helping businesses. Right around me are Jiffy Lube, Wendy's, New York New York, Davidson's - they've all said their customers buy gas here.'

People buying gas in Tigard will probably be asked to sign the initiative to put the issue on the ballot beginning around April 20, according to Ron Cain, owner of Cain Petroleum.

'The city has given us the ballot title,' he said Wednesday morning. 'We figure we should have enough signatures by mid-June and be done with it. We didn't have trouble getting signatures before - we just didn't have enough time with the holidays and bad weather. We only had about 14 days to collect signatures.

'This time we'll have good weather and enough time - we are pretty positive we'll get it on the ballot.'

For the petition drive, the gas station owners needed the signatures of 10 percent of the city's registered voters, which was 2,383 at the time. For the initiative drive, they will need to collect the signatures of 15 percent of the city's voters.