Cornelius gas tax hits a speed bump
- Christian Gaston
- Forest Grove News-Times - News
Procedural error nixes one avenue for 2-cent pump charge
A procedural error torpedoed efforts to install a local gas tax in Cornelius Monday, after city officials realized they failed to notify the public of the proposed ballot language.
The Cornelius City Council passed a resolution July 6 to put an item on the Sept. 15 special election ballot that would ask voters to 'authorize council enactment of (a) 2-cent motor vehicle fuel tax.' The measure also would have repealed a $2.25 per month streetlight fee.
City rules require a seven-day window for citizens to object to the ballot title, but the deadline to file the ballot item with county elections officials is July 16.
In theory, the city could have filed a public notice with the Oregonian last week and made the deadline, but by Monday, it was too late to make the cut.
'We should have acted on it the previous week,' said Dave Waffle, Cornelius city manager.
The rush to get the gas tax on the ballot in September is because the state legislature's
transportation bill put a moratorium on local gas tax measures. Lawmakers did give cities a 91-day window to act before the four-year block goes into effect, however, forcing Cornelius to act soon.
Waffle told city councilors Monday that even though the latest effort vaporized, there's still a chance that the city could adopt an ordinance by the end of the 91 days.
If the ordinance gets referred to voters by petition, it could go to a vote after the 91-day period and still qualify as a local action before the moratorium, Waffle said.
A draft ordinance will be presented at the Aug. 3 city council meeting, but the language will be different.
The previous gas tax measure would have offered voters a swap: dump the streetlight fee, which generates $90,000 a year, for a gas tax that would produce twice as much revenue.
But in order to offer up the death of the streetlight fee, councilors need the measure to be an all-or-nothing proposition. That worked in the previous setup because voters had to affirm the gas tax in order to repeal the streetlight fee.
But under the current situation, the council will enact a gas tax outright, expecting that a petition effort led by gas dealers will likely send it to a future ballot.
If councilors also nix the streetlight fee, they'll be gambling about the fate of the gas tax when it heads to a public vote.
That could get dicey, since the city couldn't replace the revenue generated by the streetlight fee, Waffle said.
Even so, Waffle told councilors that the city's attorney will spend the rest of July trying to fashion an ordinance combination that will offer the same exchange without putting the city in a possible lose-lose revenue scenario, where voters reject the gas tax after councilors nix the streetlight fee.
'The objective is not lost,' Waffle wrote in a report to council, 'but the route is now more difficult.'