Narrow vote means voters will have say on maintenance fee

Armed with survey results showing county residents consider road maintenance a high priority, the Washington County Coordinating Committee recommended a $43 per-vehicle registration fee to the Washington County Board of Commissioners.

In a Monday afternoon meeting held at the Beaverton City Library, the transportation committee favored a $43 fee contingent on a public vote over a $22 fee without a vote to cover a $10 million maintenance deficit on the county’s 3,000 miles of pavement.

The committee, before agreeing to pass along its recommendation to the commission, reviewed results from a July survey in which 82 percent of respondents agreed maintaining existing roads was a key priority. The recommendation, which the commission will likely address this fall, emerged from two separate votes: an 11-2 tally on the fee amount itself, and a 7-6 vote on whether the fee should go before voters.

Committee members on Monday expressed concerns ranging from the impact of the fee on individual households to the inability of a $22 registration fee — the other option on the table — to cover the county’s growing list of deferred road-maintenance projects.

Citing the financial burdens that would result for their cities’ residents, Cornelius Mayor Jeff Dalin and Sherwood City Councilor Krisanna Clark voted against the $43 fee plan.

“It’s too much,” Dalin said.

Andy Singelakis, the county’s director of Land Use and Transportation, said $43 per vehicle would likely produce the $10 million needed to fund deferred maintenance projects.

Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey said that figure, along with survey results showing public support for maintenance, leave the $43 fee as the only practical option.

“The messaging here is, if you want the roads maintained and up to speed, its $43,” he said, noting the $22 assessment would leave his city $1 million short. “Anything less than that, you’re going to get less.”

After the Department of Motor Vehicles scuttled an earlier plan for a phased-in registration fee, the committee — comprising representatives of the county and all its cities — was faced with options including a $43 fee or half of that at $22. The larger figure, equal to the state’s vehicle registration charge, is the maximum the state Legislature allows.

Singelakis said the Board of Commissioners wanted to gauge public opinion on the fee by conducting a scientific survey and soliciting opinions through its Westside Voices and Opt-In online survey systems.

After discussing the issue with board Chairman Andy Duyck, Roy Rogers, coordinating committee chairman and county commissioner, recommended focusing on the fee amount alone and leaving the question of a public vote to the commission.

Several coordinating committee members brought the question back into play on Monday, however.

“We’re going to do whatever we can as mayors to support this,” said Willey, who suspected a public vote would result in poor turnout and voter representation. “I think putting it up for a vote is a recipe for disaster.”

A $43 fee would generate up to $18 million per year, based on 2012 passenger vehicle registration data. Approximately $10.8 million would go to the county, with $7.2 million allotted for cities based on population. The county’s two largest cities, Hillsboro and Beaverton, would receive about $2 million each. Tigard would get around $1 million, while Tualatin, Forest Grove and Sherwood would receive about $500,000 each.

Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle proposed more polling and letting commissioners decide on the fee amount.

“We need to keep traffic moving in this county,” he said. “I think $43 would be acceptable. We need to let the political leaders of the county make that decision.”

Cornelius Mayor Jeff Dalin said he objected to the voting provision simply because of the expense and time involved.

“We would be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars that could actually be spent on (road maintenance). There’s no reason to waste that money when we already have the survey,” he noted.

Conducted in July by Davis, Hibbitts and Midghall Inc., the six-minute telephone survey asked 940 residents their opinions on funding priorities for transportation maintenance and improvements. At 49 percent, slightly less than half of those surveyed indicated they were “very” or “somewhat” aware of a significant decline in the county’s average road rating. Fifty percent admitted to varying degrees of awareness, including 28 percent who said they were “not at all aware” of the declines and inability of the gas tax to fund maintenance.

In terms of priorities, 82 percent of respondents said roads should be maintained “before it will cost more for improvements.” The outcome matched a Transportation System Plan scientific survey from April, in which 80 percent agreed with the statement, “the longer we wait to make transportation improvements, the more it will cost.”

Other priorities from the July survey included traffic signal improvements (69 percent), reducing congestion (66 percent), faster response for emergency vehicles (64 percent) and improving sidewalks and bicycle lanes, “especially near schools,” (53 percent).

Rogers agreed with Willey and other city leaders that the $22 fee would be short-sighted.

“We’ve got a heck of a lot of deferred (projects),” he said. “With ($22), we won’t have picked up any of those. We would say those guys did a nice bit of patching, but didn’t really solve anything.”

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