Clackamas County headed to another Sellwood Bridge fee?
Our highways and local roads have been taken for granted while uncounted millions of transportation dollars have been spent elsewhere. The impacts have caught up with us, creating a drag on our economy and our personal mobility.
The 2017 Oregon Legislature responded to the crisis by approving a $5.3 billion transportation bill that includes a 10-cent-per-gallon gas-tax increase devoted exclusively for maintenance and repairs. Fifty percent of the money is dedicated to state highways, including 99E, 26 and 212. The other 50 percent is allotted to our local cities and counties. Clackamas County is already receiving its share of the millions being generated.
In spite of the gas tax increase, the county is well on its way to approving a vehicle-registration fee, adding $60 to the cost for renewing the tags on a passenger vehicle for two years. Coincidentally, those fees were just increased to help fund the $5.3 billion transportation bill I mentioned earlier.
The county may have a shortfall in funding, but has failed to make a case that a new fee is necessary, or that it won't increase in the future. There have already been meetings held, but little outreach, and that's troubling. I wonder how many of the county's 400,000 residents are aware that another increase in their cost of living is quietly moving forward?
It's a red flag when a government jurisdiction proposes a new tax or fee without adequate public involvement. Placing a small notice in the newspaper the day before Thanksgiving met the legal requirement, but was no substitute for providing the awareness we citizens deserve.
Regardless of whether you own a vehicle, you'll pay more because the fee will be imposed on our families and service businesses. The cost to repair your plumbing or for an Uber ride will be increased to cover the $60-per-vehicle fee increase. I would not oppose a modest fee increase if the county wasn't already receiving millions from the gas-tax increase.
Although there is an ongoing process, we haven't been informed whether the fee will be placed on the ballot next year. The scenario reminds us of why the voters soundly defeated Clackamas County's Sellwood Bridge fee after activists gathered thousands of signatures to place it on the ballot. Will history repeat itself if the county commissioners fail to allow a public vote?
There's no doubt that we need to invest more in our roads and highways. It's time for a dramatic increase in public awareness and involvement in transportation issues. If Clackamas County expects us to dig deeper into our pockets, they must first earn our trust.
To stay informed, please follow the "Vehicle Transportation Alliance" on Facebook. It's your money.
Les Poole is a Gladstone resident.