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If approved, money from the vehicle-registration fee would be split between county, cities

ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Clackamas County leaders are considering using funds from a potential vehicle registration fee for safety improvements on Eagle Creek Road between Currin Road and Duus Road.

Clackamas County commissioners are considering a vehicle-registration fee to fund road maintenance and construction projects to relieve congestion.

The fee would be paid by every county resident registering a vehicle with the DMV.

Commissioners took public comment on the ordinance during a meeting on Thursday, Feb. 7. It will be considered again during a meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, at 2051 Kaen Road in Oregon City. Commissioners will vote on the ordinance during that meeting, or at a later date. Previously, leaders held 11 informational meetings about the vehicle-registration fee across Clackamas County.

The fee would be $30 annually per vehicle for cars, pickup trucks, vans and other passenger vehicles, and $15 annually for motorcycles. In accordance with state law, the vehicle-registration 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.

If the registration fee is approved, the funds would be divided between the county and its cities. The county's revenue from the fee is estimated at $5.5 million annually, and projects would focus on improving the pavement conditions of roads, as well as funding capital projects to relieve congestion and improve safety.

Clackamas County is the only county in the Portland metropolitan area that does not have a local source of funds for its roads. 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.

Clackamas County receives funds through state legislation passed in 2017, which provides funds for resurfacing some roads, ADA projects and bike and pedestrian projects. However, officials say this money is not enough to fund the resurfacing of roads throughout the county and projects to relieve congestion.

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.

If the registration-fee ordinance is approved, 50 percent of the proceeds would go to the county, 40 percent would go to the cities and 10 percent would go to a strategic investment fund for maintenance and congestion-relief projects that would be jointly agreed upon by the county and cities.

Based on population, Sandy would receive about $214,969 annually, while Oregon City would receive $690,807. Estacada would receive $63,654 annually from the registration fee. Lake Oswego would receive $703,222 annually, West Linn $516,794, Wilsonville $428,938, Milwaukie $413,798, Happy Valley $376,877, Canby $331,281, Gladstone $235,246 and Molalla $183,294.

One of the projects Clackamas County is considering for their portion of the funds is adding several safety elements to a stretch of Eagle Creek Road between Currin Road and Duus Road. Potential work includes removing the area's horizontal curve, relocating an intersection, and adding paved shoulders and turn lanes at major intersections, though county leaders would seek community feedback about the area's needs before embarking on the work and potentially select a different project.

Estacada Mayor Sean Drinkwine acknowledged that "no one wants to pay fees," but the vehicle registration fee would be valuable for the county's infrastructure.

"We have to think ahead. We're getting too far behind, and our infrastructure is crumbling," Drinkwine said.

The Estacada City Council sent Clackamas County a letter of support for the vehicle registration fee — provided it was implemented though approval of voters. Gladstone's City Council would also like the question to be referred to the ballot by county commissioners.

"We ask that Clackamas County place the question of imposing a countywide vehicle-registration fee on a ballot for voter consideration," the letter read. "If the VRF was approved by voters the city of Estacada would use the new revenue for street maintenance, the installation of ADA crossings and sidewalks, crack sealing projects, and for construction of projects listed in our Transportation Master Plan. The money may also be used for matching grant funds that become available for various projects."

Clackamas County's largest cities have sent letters in support of the registration fee. These cities include West Linn, Lake Oswego, Wilsonville and Happy Valley. Oregon City and Milwaukie are two cities that are supporting county commissioners passing the fee by ordinance, which would not involve a ballot measure voted on by all county residents unless people collected tens of thousands of signatures to refer the question to an upcoming election.

"We support Clackamas County making a bold decision today to address local funding needs through passage of a VRF by ordinance," wrote Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba. "We recognize and appreciate that passage of a local funding ordinance can be a challenge, but it is also necessary to respond to countywide needs such as deteriorating roads and ever-increasing commute times."

During the Feb. 7 meeting, some Clackamas County residents expressed support for the vehicle registration fee, while others did not. Concerns included a lack of public awareness about the proposed ordinance, preference for a gas tax rather than a vehicle-registration fee, and making the proposed amount less than $30.

Clackamas County Commissioner Ken Humberston noted that replacing a road costs 10 times more than maintaining a road.

"We have to be responsible for the next generation. I don't enjoy raising anyone's taxes or fees, and the responsibility weighs heavily on us," he said. "I'm not willing to pass that down to the next generation. It's unfair and irresponsible."

He noted that the $30-a-year vehicle-registration fee could be a good start to making progress on the county's road and infrastructure needs.

"We can sit back and do nothing, and let it get worse, or make progress on the problem," he said.

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