Vote Looms on $5 Centre County Vehicle Fee
A proposed ordinance to include a county-implemented $5 fee for residents renewing their annual vehicle registration is drafted and county officials are taking a deep look at the document and its language as a vote by commissioners looms.
The preliminary document was introduced to the county at the April 18 meeting of the Centre County Board of Commissioners.
Chairman Commissioner Michael Pipe, who has spearheaded the effort to bring information to county vehicle owners concerning the Act 89 initiative, said the proposed ordinance was modeled after a template ordinance already enacted by several counties in the commonwealth.
Act 89 was passed by the state in 2013 and allowed counties to begin imposing a $5 registration fee increase to generate revenue for bridge and transportation improvement projects.
Since January, Pipe has been distributing information and seeking input concerning the proposal and surveyed 35 municipalities in the community concerning their interest in such a fee. He has also headed up a series of three town hall meetings, complete with PowerPoint presentations of how the fee will be collected and the benefits to the county for enacting such a fee.
Of the 19 municipalities that responded to the survey, 12 were in favor of the measure, including the townships of Boggs, College, Gregg, Patton, Potter and Spring, and the boroughs of Centre Hall, Milesburg, Millheim, Snow Shoe, State College and Unionville. Those not in favor of enacting the fee were Haines, Halfmoon, Harris, Penn and Snow Shoe townships and Bellefonte Borough. Ferguson Township replied that it is a decision for the commissioners to make and would support whichever action the board takes.
“We’re not ready to take any official action on this today,” Pipe said during the April 18 meeting. “We want to take a good look at it and make any adjustments we feel are necessary.”
WHAT’S AT STAKE
The document outlines why the county is interested in adopting the ordinance, as well as how it plans to collect the fees and disperse them equally among the municipalities.
It shows that, since 1988, the commissioners have awarded an average of $184,842.67 annually in liquid fuels grants to municipalities for transportation improvement projects. Since 1995, the board has received an average of a little more than $1 million in applications from municipalities seeking liquid fuel money for road and bridge work.
The document also shows there are 13 county bridges with spans of 20 feet or more that are determined to be “structurally deficient” and in need of repair, and 18 more are hovering close to this designation.
To boost interest, the state Department of Transportation announced the new Road Maintenance and Preservation program in February that reserves $2 million for each county that has passed an ordinance enacting Act 89 with a 50 percent local match commitment.
According to Pipe, PennDOT numbers recently reflected there were 120,537 non-exempt vehicles in Centre County. Exempt vehicles are those used for public needs, such as plow trucks, police cars and emergency medical services vehicles. Also included in the exempt status are about 1,317 retired county residents who receive a special discounted registration fee.
Pipe said the county stands to generate nearly $600,000 in additional transportation funding through the measure, and the state will match any liquid fuels funds raised up to $2 million.
“All the money of this fee will be returned to the county for use,” said Pipe. “What’s nice is we’ll be able to leverage this money for other state and federal funds. There are a lot of advantages to getting involved in this program.”
SUNSET CLAUSE DISCUSSED
Commissioner Mark Higgins suggested an edit to the document. He said he wanted to see a “sunset” clause put in the ordinance, which would allow a future board of commissioners the option to opt-out of the program. He said if the program works as it is intended over the first five years, the list of county transportation projects could be drastically reduced, thus alleviating the need for such an expense.
“Of course, that would be ideal,” commented Pipe. “However, I wonder how putting a sunset clause would affect the $2 million the state has put up for matching money. I like the idea, but I wouldn’t want to hurt our chances of receiving that funding.”
Higgins agreed and asked to consider adding a section to the ordinance for a sunset clause should it not disqualify the county from the reserved matching funding available. Initially, Higgins said it should be reexamined in five years, but said he is flexible as far as a time frame goes.
“We need our solicitor to look at this and see what language we would need to use here,” said Higgins. “I just don’t want to lock the county into something in perpetuity.”
Commissioner Steve Dershem sat quietly throughout the conversation. During the meeting, he said he was not “warm to the idea” of the $5 fee, and confirmed his thoughts after the gathering concluded.
“I don’t want to go into grand detail as I think there will be time for that in the future,” said Dershem. “I’m just very hesitant to add another layer of fees and taxes on transportation.”
The document will now go to the county solicitor and other staff for further recommendations on the proposal. Pipe said the ordinance could be advertised publicly within the next couple weeks, with a vote on the measure to follow.
In other business, the commissioners:
■ Approved a liquid fuels application in the amount of $40,000 to Potter Township for paving Tusseyville Road.
■ Approved a contract with Vertiv for battery replacement for the Uninterruptible Power System at a cost of $12,358.45. The cost includes on-site engineer support the day of replacement, disposal of old batteries and freight for new batteries.
■ Heard from Gary Hoover, executive director of Bellefonte Intervalley Area Chamber of Commerce. Hoover offered the county a view of the new BIACC Welcome Video, which depicts several areas of interest in Bellefonte. The video will be used as a marketing and publicity tool for Bellefonte and all of Centre County.