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Are There Better Options To The County Vehicle Fee?

Who came up with the vehicle registration fee (VRF) measure on the May 19 ballot and why were other, more palatable options not suggested? Judging by letters to the editor in EW and The Register-Guard, these questions remain unanswered in the minds of many voters as the Tuesday voting deadline approaches.

“The proposal was not generated or authored by any one person,” says Lane County Administrator Steve Mokrohisky. “In fact, it was a citizen panel that recommended the fee to the board.” 

The Road Advisory Committee is a citizen panel that advises on road and bridge maintenance issues, Mokrohisky says. RAC evaluated some 28 different funding options allowed by law, including a gas tax, sales tax, bicycle tax, local property tax levy, transportation utility fee, toll roads and a transportation service district. 

Each funding option was evaluated based on 11 criteria such as revenue potential, public acceptance, equity (flat tax vs. progressive tax) and implementation difficulty.

Not considered were fees on large trucks and buses, which already pay a state-assessed weight-mile tax that’s adjusted regularly by ODOT. Commercial vehicles are exempt by law from local taxes or fees.

How about boosting the gas tax? Commissioner Pete Sorensen says five cities already have their own gas taxes, and applying a gas tax to the unincorporated areas would only generate $1.5 million toward the budget gap of $9 million. 

“We also have been informed that if the county chose to pursue a gas tax at any level, we would be strongly opposed at the state level,” Sorenson says. “We wanted to put our efforts toward something that had a reasonable chance of success. In our exhaustive review of revenue options, we found that there isn’t a perfect approach, and we agree that the VRF is not perfect. It is modest (less than $3 a month), it’s cost effective to administer and allows Lane County to generate money locally that will be spent locally.”

“Ultimately,” Mokrohisky says, “the RAC recommended to the Board of Commissioners, on a unanimous vote, to consider implementing a vehicle registration fee. The board then unanimously voted to refer the question to voters.”

 Will it pass? The county conducted two separate public research surveys in 2014. Both surveys showed voter support exceeding 50 percent for a registration fee of $35 per year or $70 for a two-year registration. 

But with low voter turnout anticipated, the fate of the measure will likely be determined by the relatively few county residents who vote.