Washington County adopts conditional vehicle registration fee

For Immediate Release: Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Sponsored by: Department of Land Use and Transportation, Administrative Services/Office of the Director Division

Hillsboro, Ore. – A ordinance establishing a conditional $30 annual vehicle registration fee (VRF) to offset some of the local maintenance funding shortfall and to improve transportation safety was adopted during tonight's [Sept. 20] Washington County Board of Commissioners meeting.

Ordinance 817 was unanimously approved, following a public hearing. Under the provisions of the ordinance, the County VRF will go into effect on the condition that the state Legislature fails to pass a 2017 transportation funding package that provides additional County revenue equal to or greater than $8.1 million annually – the County's share of revenue generated by a $30 VRF – in the first year.  

"If the (state) Legislature fails to act, then we have to do what our cities and the County have a history of doing so well," testified Jerry Willey, Hillsboro mayor. "And that's having a plan that will allow us to meet our local transportation needs as best we can for our county and our communities." 

Safety was the biggest concern expressed by supporters. The County has had to defer preventive maintenance and repairs, which has created safety issues on many roads. Examples include the collapse of aging culverts on both Timber and Beef Bend roads in December. The Timber Road culvert collapsed minutes after a school bus drove over it. 

"This isn't a problem that's going to fix itself," Dave Schamp, manager of the Washington County Department of Land Use & Transportation Operations Division, said. "The longer we wait to increase our maintenance funding, the less safe and reliable our transportation system becomes." 

"Poor pavement condition – potholes, cracks, uneven surfaces – can increase the risk of traffic issues," testified Mike Duyck, fire chief, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue. "Delaying road maintenance is like delaying new batteries in a smoke detector. In both cases, you're betting that nothing will happen. What happens when you lose the bet?" 

Washington County's road maintenance funding comes primarily from the state's gas tax and vehicle fees and the County's gas tax, which are not keeping pace with increasing maintenance costs. Fuel sales per registered vehicle have been declining, due to hybrid and electric cars, and fewer miles traveled per vehicle. At the same time, maintenance costs have increased significantly.  

The maintenance funding shortfall has impacted the condition of the County's roads, bridges and culverts. An estimated $4 million per year is needed to maintain the County's pavement at a "good" level. Fifty-four culverts need replacing and 81 bridges are deficient –14 of which are weight limited – for a total estimated repair or replacement cost of $126.5 million. 

Many of those testifying in support of the VRF urged the Board to adopt a $43 annual fee – the maximum allowed under state law – to further improve road safety. Commissioners opted for a $30 fee, however, citing the ballot measure calling for a $30 VRF which was narrowly defeated in 2014. 

"I heard loud and clear that there is a desire for a $43 fee," said Dick Schouten, vice chair, District 1. "But the voters did have an opportunity to vote on this a couple of years ago and narrowly – narrowly – defeated that. So I think we need to strike a moderate tone on this and implement the $30 fee. We can keep our eyes on the dashboard, and see if we should revisit this in a couple of years." 

The $30 VRF will generate an estimated $13.5 million in revenue. This revenue would be split 60/40 between the County ($8.1 million) and the cities within the County ($5.4 million) as required by state statute. All funds received by the County would be used only for local maintenance to improve the safety and condition of County roads, bridges and culverts. 

If implemented, the County VRF will be collected by the state Department of Motor Vehicles, in conjunction with state registration fees, starting July 1, 2018. The fee would be $30 per year, or $2.50 per month, for most vehicle owners. The fee for motorcycles/mopeds will be $17 per year. Owners of trailers eligible for permanent registration will pay a one-time fee of $10. 

For more information visit www.co.washington.or.us/vrf.

Washington County is committed to planning and protecting the uses of the land and to building and maintaining a great transportation system, balancing care for the natural environment, economic development, safety and community livability.

Media Contact:

Melissa De Lyser, Communications Coordinator