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People opposed to the new $5 vehicle registration fee in Clackamas County are buzzing over an under-the-radar plan that would increase the fee to $40 to fund more than the Sellwood Bridge in a few years.
Lake Oswego City Councilwoman Mary Olson is one of them. In her testimony before the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, she said: "This is not about the Sellwood Bridge. This is about a new revenue stream for Clackamas County by means of what is essentially a new tax without a vote. There is a plan formulated by (County) Chair (Lynn) Peterson and the cities in Clackamas County to further increase this fee in three years and split it up on projects between the county and cities."
The Clackamas County branch of the state Republican Party has also posted an opinion on its site warning against the fee: "In an earlier meeting held on September 20th, 2010, between the cities and the county, it was stated that the Sellwood Bridge was only a part of the county’s vehicle registration fee plan, and that the fee could be as high as $40 per vehicle per year."
PolitiFact Oregon hates when fees for one thing balloon into larger fees for other things. So we decided to check out the claim.
Olson points to a Sept. 20 meeting hosted by Clackamas County, where city and county bureaucrats were invited to start talking about transportation funding needs and the availability of a new county-only vehicle registration fee. Eugene Schoenheit was the only member of the public present.
But first we need to back up to 2009. That year the Oregon Legislature approved House Bill 2001 as a way to update Oregon’s highways and roads, including the Sellwood Bridge. The proposal included a provision allowing counties with more than 350,000 people -- that would be Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties -- to pass their own vehicle registration fees without a vote to pay for the bridge. The law also allows for those counties to implement another registration fee after July 2013 to pay for non-bridge projects.
Multnomah County drivers this year started paying an extra $19 a year, or $38 for the two-year period of a vehicle tag. On Dec. 9, Clackamas County commissioners approved a fee that is $5 a year, or $10 for the two-year period. A county press release stated the additional fee would start in 2012 and end as soon the county had collected $22 million for its share of the bridge. The funds would be used only for bridge work.
But what about a so-called plan to increase the registration fee and split the goods among cities and the county? Did people at the Sept. 20 meeting agree to such a thing more or less?
"Heavens to Betsy, no," said Ellen Rogalin, community relations specialist for Clackamas County transportation and development.
Tim Heider, spokesman for Clackamas County, added, "There is no plan. Its was just a discussion. It was a discussion about how to meet future transportation needs."
About two dozen people attended the meeting, including the mayors of Molalla and Oregon City and the city managers of Canby, Happy Valley, Lake Oswego, Sandy, West Linn and Tualatin, according to a meeting summary provided by the county. The meeting was not advertised. Peterson welcomed people and led some of the discussion. "It was an initial informational discussion among cities and the county on this new law," Rogalin said.
But there were specific questions, and general consensus on those specific questions that point to more than mere discussion of a new law:
1. Do you have a way to pay for unmet transportation needs in your city? General consensus: No.
2. Is there interest among the cities to have the Board of County Commissioners consider enactment of a vehicle registration fee as a source of revenue to address transportation needs? General consensus: Yes.
3. If there is agreement that a vehicle registration fee should be looked at, what are your thoughts about entering into a memorandum of understanding with the county to record this agreement? General consensus: Yes, jurisdictions would like to explore this further.
Oh, and there was a handout charting how much money would be raised at $5, $10, $15, and so on, to $40 a year per vehicle. Sample memorandums were to be drafted and sent out by early November. No memorandums have been drafted and there is no date for a next meeting, Rogalin said.
Again, none of this adds up to a definitive plan. But it’s fair to say that there was a definite agenda and definite movement toward tackling new fees at this meeting.
The $10 two-year county bridge fee does not mean an automatic pass to ever-higher tag fees and a host of expensive new projects. According to state law, county commissioners would have to vote again on any vehicle fee increase after July 2013 for projects other than the Sellwood Bridge. While there isn’t "a plan," there clearly is planning. We find the claim Half True.
Comment on this item.
"Mary Olson LO City Councilor against Clackamas County tax on LO residents," Citizens for Local Accountability in Lake Oswego, Dec. 12, 2010
"Clackamas County Commissioners approve $5 vehicle registration fee for Sellwood Bridge replacement, with provisions for sunset, jobs and a 2012 implementation date," Clackamas County press release, Dec. 9, 2010
"Enrolled HB 2001," Oregon Department of Transportation, July 28, 2009
Interview with and e-mail from Ellen Rogalin, Clackamas County, Dec. 20, 2010, and Dec. 21, 2010
Interview with Tim Heider, Clackamas County, Dec. 20, 2010
Interview with Mary Olson, Lake Oswego City Council, Dec. 17, 2010
E-mail from Eugene Schoenheit, Dec. 20, 2010
The Northwest Connection, "$40 Vehicle Registration Fee … No Vote Required," October 2010
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