Funds will be divided between county and cities to fund road maintenance and construction

REVIEW FILE PHOTO - Clackamas County is responsible for 1,400 miles of roads, but it's the only county in the Portland metropolitan area that does not have a local source of street funding. Clackamas County Commissioners have approved a $30 per year vehicle registration fee to fund road maintenance and construction projects to relieve congestion.

After a second public hearing Thursday, Feb. 21, commissioners approved the ordinance in a 4-1 vote. The fee will go into effect 90 days after the Feb. 21 meeting.

Residents will pay $30 annually for each passenger vehicle and $15 for each motorcycle registered with the DMV. Most vehicles are subject to biennial registration periods, meaning that drivers would be charged for two years' worth of registration fees at one time. Per state law, the fee would not apply to registered farm vehicles; snowmobiles and Class I all-terrain vehicles; fixed-load vehicles; vehicles registered to disabled veterans or former prisoners of war; vehicles registered as antique or vehicles of special interest; government-owned or operated vehicles, including school buses; travel trailers, campers and motorhomes; and heavy trucks, which pay state weight-mile taxes.

The funds will be divided with 50 percent going to the county, 40 percent to the cities in the county and 10 percent to a strategic investment fund for the county and cities to fund multi-jurisdictional projects.

Though the county will receive $5.5 million annually from the vehicle registration fee, transportation officials cited a funding gap of between $3-5 million that will remain. Funds to the cities will be based on population, and Estacada is expected to receive $63,654 annually. Nearby, Sandy will receive $214,969 annually, and Oregon City will receive $690,807 each year.

Clackamas County is responsible for 1,400 miles of roads and is the only county in the Portland metropolitan area that does not have a local source of street funding. Multnomah County has a fuel tax and vehicle registration fee, and Washington County has a fuel tax, road district, property tax and vehicle registration fee.

Previously, vehicle registration fees and fuel taxes have each been voted down several times by Clackamas County residents. In 2016, voters turned down a fuel tax of 6 cents per gallon by more than 60 percent.

Clackamas County will use their portion of the funds for safety improvements, estimated at $500,000 per year; local road maintenance, estimated at $1 million per year; and congestion relief through capital projects, estimated at $3.5-4 million per year.

The county will seek community feedback about projects.

Commissioners, citizens deliberate fee

The Feb. 21 public hearing included several hours of public testimony advocating for either side of the issue. Those who did not wish to see the vehicle registration fee enacted cited a disadvantage to people who own multiple vehicles, a preference for a fee based on miles driven and a belief that the question should be brought before the voters.

Loren Hutnick, who owns a trucking company in Eagle Creek, said Clackamas County should receive more of the weight mile tax he pays since he conducts the majority of his business in the county.

"I understand where you're coming from with these fees, but every month I am signing checks to government agencies for this fee, that fee, this registration," he said. "When does it stop? You've got to draw the line."

Janelle Lawrence, executive director of Oregon Impact and chair of the Drive to Zero advisory committee, expressed her support of the ordinance because of the improvements to safety it would provide.

"Bringing down fatalities requires considerable investments. Adding additional funding through the VRF increases the number of people who arrive home safely to their families each night," she said.

Oregon City resident William Gifford also encouraged the commission to enact the fee.

"I haven't heard anyone say the roads don't need repair," he said.

Commissioner Ken Humberston described not enacting the vehicle registration fee as "utterly irresponsible."

"(We) have to make sure our next generation has infrastructure that works for them," he said. "Given the history that we have faced, it would be an abdication of our responsibilities as elected officials to not do this. I don't expect anybody in this room, myself included, to like this ... but the fact is, this is absolutely necessary."

Commissioner Martha Schrader supported the vehicle registration fee but cited it as "one of the hardest votes I've made since I've been here."

"It's hard for people to come up with additional dollars," she said, noting that she thinks it's likely the ordinance will be remonstrated.

Commissioner Sonya Fischer also voted for the fee but expressed concern that it disproportionately affects lower income residents.

"Can't we make this a progressive fee so the people who are really struggling, the people in fixed incomes don't have to pay the same amount?" she asked, adding that she wishes there were better solutions for the issue.

Commissioner Jim Bernard cited $30 annually as a reasonable fee.

"If it were possible to solve this problem by going to $60 a vehicle, I don't think the people of Clackamas County would ever even consider supporting that. ... We had an opportunity to do more but we decided to do what we thought was fair," he said.

Commissioner Paul Savas provided several reasons for his vote against the ordinance, including the passage of a measure in the May 2016 election that advised the county to pursue voter-approved funding for deferred road maintenance.

He also noted that even with the vehicle registration fee, a shortfall of funds would remain.

"I am supportive of finding the revenue and funding something to meet those needs, and frankly this doesn't get us there. This is half the amount of funds we need to do the job," he said. "Doing half a job isn't enough. I want to do a full job."

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