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Petitioners seeking 8,011 signatures to put proposal to require voter approval on November ballot

PMG FILE PHOTO - Clackamas County Commissioners passed a vehicle registration fee earlier this year, and a petition has been filed to send the fee to voters for approval.

A petition has been filed by several Clackamas County residents to send the county's vehicle registration fee to voters for approval.

Herbert Chow, Mark Callahan and Eugene Schoenheit need to gather 8,011 signatures by Wednesday, May 22, for their petition to qualify for the Nov. 19 election.

"We believe that the people should have a say on their fees/taxes," the petitioners told Pamplin Media Group via email. "Last January, the state already hit us with an additional $30 per renewal tax increase. It's unfair for the County to reach deeper into our pockets in the name of benefitting us without letting we the people have a say."

In February, Clackamas County commissioners voted 4-1 to pass an ordinance for a $30-per-year-vehicle and $15-per-year-motorcycle registration fee to fund road maintenance and construction projects to relieve congestion. Commissioner Ken Humberston said he didn't take lightly voting for the fee, but he pointed out that the county is an estimated $300 million behind on maintaining its 1,400 miles of roads.

"I believe I have an obligation to you and the next generation to make certain we maintain our infrastructure and pass on to the next generation a functioning road system," Humberston said. "The can has been kicked down the road long enough."

Most vehicles are subject to biennial registration periods, meaning that drivers would be charged for two years' worth of registration fees at one time. As per state law, the fee will 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 vehicle registration fee will go into effect later this month. Funds will be divided with 50% going to the county, 40% to the cities in the county and 10% to a strategic investment fund for the county and cities for multi-jurisdictional projects. The county is expected to receive $5.5 million annually from the fee, and funds to the cities will be based on population.

Clackamas County will use its 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 to be between $3.5 million and $4 million per year.

"While we agree that many of the road projects the county has promoted in their VRF plan may be necessary, county commissioners are forcing us to accept an additional vehicle registration fee to pay for these projects without a public vote," petitioners wrote on their website.

Petitioners also cite the funds that the county will receive from the state gas tax as rendering the funds from the vehicle registration fee unnecessary.

Clackamas County officials expect to receive between $6 million to $6.5 million from the state during the 2018-19 fiscal year. This figure includes funds from the gas tax, weight mile tax, the state's vehicle registration fee and fees from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Officials further noted that each year through 2027, this fund is expected to increase. The county expects to receive $7.6 million from the state in the 2019-20 fiscal year, and $10 million during the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Petitioners described the vehicle registration fee as a burden on Clackamas County residents. "They're giving money back to the incorporated cities even though those residents already pay taxes to maintain their roads," they wrote in an email. "We need people to be aware and make a choice. This new tax (fees) is a burden on families already strapped financially."

To learn more and sign the petition to send the vehicle registration fee to the voters, visit www.novrf.com.

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