VRF Frequently Asked Questions (updated October 2, 2013)


What's the need?

  • Our current road maintenance funding—primarily from gas taxes—is not keeping up with increasing costs and the needs of an expanding and increasingly complex road system—which includes pavement, bridges, culverts, traffic signals, lighting, signs and landscaping.

  • The county's current unfunded maintenance needs are about $10 million. Based on current spending trends, this amount is projected to double within 10 years.

  • The average pavement condition of county roads has fallen more than 10 points in the past decade. It is projected to fall nearly 20 additional points over the next 15 to 20 years. As pavement condition deteriorates, more expensive repairs or rehabilitation will be needed to restore pavements to good condition.

  • Nearly half of the county's 188 bridges are structurally deficient, weight-limited or functionally obsolete. The current estimated cost to replace them is $110 million.

  • Preventive maintenance is cost effective. If we don't keep up preventive maintenance on the 3,000 lane miles of county roadways, major rehabilitation or reconstruction will be required in the future—at 5 to 10 times the cost.

  • Each city within the county also maintains certain roads within its boundaries. Preventive maintenance needs also exist on the cities' road systems. 

  • Poor road maintenance costs drivers extra money. The American Society of Civil Engineers' 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure found that driving on roads in need of repair costs Oregon motorists $495 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs – $173 per motorist.

  • Spending more on preventive maintenance now will save Washington County taxpayers tens of millions of dollars over the long term.

Why a Registration Fee?

  • State law limits the road maintenance revenue options available to the Board of County Commissioners. We considered all potential funding sources, and a countywide vehicle registration fee is the preferred option for five reasons:
    • Funds are generated by road users.
    • Vehicle registrations are relatively stable over time. Gas taxes fluctuate significantly, and are anticipated to decline as more fuel efficient vehicles are introduced.
    • Revenues would be shared between the county (60%) and cities (40%); 
    • It is relatively simple to implement and administer; and
    • Maintaining roads now with a dedicated vehicle registration fee would help save taxpayer dollars from being spent on more expensive repairs in the future.
  • A registration fee would complement the existing gas tax. As with most pubic utilities, a combination of funding sources is needed for the long term sustainability of our road system. A vehicle registration fee would be similar to the utility "base charge" that all users pay regardless of how much they actually use the system. Those funds help ensure that the system is kept in good working order for all users. In addition to the "base charge," utility users also pay for their actual use of the system—in the case of roads, that is the gas tax, which is linked to how much we drive.

How much would it cost? Are there exemptions?

  • Current state law allows the maximum county registration fee to be $43 per year (equal to the current state registration fee for passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks). It is possible to set the county fee amount lower.
  • The proposed county registration fee amount is $30 per year for most vehicles and $17 per year for motorcycles and mopeds. Since most registration renewals occur once every two years, drivers would pay $60 for most vehicles or $34 for motorcycles or mopeds every two years at the time of registration renewal.

  • $30 per year is equivalent to $2.50 per month.

  • Certain vehicles are exempt from the county fee under state law. These include farm vehicles, antique and special interest vehicles, motor homes, campers and travel trailers, trucks weighing over 26,000 pounds, government and school vehicles, and vehicles owned by disabled veterans.

How much would the fee generate?

  • If adopted at the proposed $30 annual rate, the fee would generate approximately $12.6 million countywide each year to help keep our roads maintained.

  • Both the county and our cities would benefit from the additional revenues. Approximately $7.6 million would go to the county and $5 million to cities based on population.

    The six largest cities and projected revenues are: Hillsboro and Beaverton (about $1.4 million each); Tigard (about $760,000); Tualatin (about $370,000); Forest Grove (about $340,000); and Sherwood (about $300,000).

How would the funds be used?

  • Oregon’s Constitution requires taxes and fees on motor vehicle fuel and use, including vehicle registration fees, to be used exclusively for the construction, reconstruction, improvement, repair, maintenance and operation or use of public highways, roads, streets and roadside rest areas in this state.
  • If adopted, the County would allocate its share of this fee to the maintenance and operation of its road system—including pavement, bridges, culverts, signals, signs, landscaping, and other elements of the road system.
  • With the additional revenue from the proposed $30 annual fee, the county anticipates being able to bring most county roads up to adopted pavement standards and keeping them there for 15 to 20 years plus resolving our current deferred maintenance backlog.
  • By paying for more preventive road maintenance now, taxpayers would be saved from having to pay for more expensive repairs later.
  • Cities would be able to choose how to best allocate their share of the revenues within the constitutional limitations noted above.

When would the fee take effect?

  • State law allows the Board to adopt the fee on or after July 1, 2013.

  • At this time, the Board of Commissioners has tabled action on this proposed fee until June 2014. 

  • If adopted, the fee would take effect for vehicles registering or renewing registrations approximately 9 to 12 months following the Board’s adoption.

How would the fee be collected?

  • Oregon DMV would collect the county fee along with state registration fees—once every two years for most vehicles. New vehicles are initially registered for four years.

  • DMV would distribute funds to the county monthly. The county would distribute funds to the cities.

Do other counties have a registration fee?

  • So far, only Multnomah County has adopted a fee ($19 per year dedicated solely to paying debt service for replacement of the Sellwood Bridge).

  • Several other counties are considering implementing registration fees.

How do Oregon’s auto fees compare to other states?

  • A 2011 study by the Idaho Department of Transportation (IDOT) found that Oregon’s registration fees ranked 39th out of the 50 states.

  • A January 2013 Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) analysis found that Oregonians pay the lowest automobile related taxes and fees in these seven western states (listed lowest cost to highest cost): Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Washington, Nevada and California).

  • A recent Bankrate.com survey indicated that Oregon residents have the lowest overall cost of vehicle ownership in the US; driven largely by the lack of a sales tax and by low registration fees.

Large trucks and studded tires damage roads… are they paying?

  • Under state law, large trucks are exempt from the county registration fee. However, they do pay a state weight-mile tax. Weight-mile taxes generated by large trucks (less than 3% of vehicles registered in Washington County) provided 24% of our total road maintenance revenues last year.

  • State law does not currently allow the state or counties to charge fees on studded tire users.

People commute here from other counties to work… would they pay the fee?

  • No. However, we also have a significant number of Washington County residents that commute to work in other counties. Our residents would not pay registration fees in other counties either.

  • Out-of-county residents who buy gas here do help maintain our roads through gas taxes.

Can you require bicycles to register and pay a fee for maintaining the roads?

  • State law does not allow registration of bicycles.

  • However, most cyclists also own cars. Those who live in Washington County would pay the registration fee. They also pay gas taxes when filling up their vehicles.

I own multiple vehicles… will I have to pay the fee for each one, even if I can only drive one at a time?

  • Yes. This is also true for the state registration fee, DEQ fees, insurance, and other “fixed” costs associated with owning multiple vehicles.

  • Each vehicle used on our roadways contributes to road wear and tear. Vehicle registration fee funds would help maintain our roads now, before it will cost more in the future. This benefits all road users.

Have questions? Want more information?