Petition Campaign Underway to Refer Vehicle Registration Fee to Clackamas County Voters

Back in February, when the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners approved a countywide vehicle registration fee for $30 per year per passenger vehicle, more than one of the commissioners predicted that the matter would eventually go before the voters through the petition process.

Their words could prove prophetic if a petition campaign that is currently underway gets the 8,000 signatures they need to qualify the issue for the Nov. 5 special election. The campaign, led by chief petitioners and Clackamas County residents Herbert Chow, Mark Callahan and Eugene Schoenheit, would not outright overturn the VRF commissioners approved by ordinance at a Feb. 21 public hearing; it would simply give residents the chance to vote on the matter.

But, if history is any indication, those two outcomes may very well be one and the same. Clackamas County has gone to the voters for local road funding in the past — at least six or eight times, depending on who you ask — and the measures have always been turned down. The last time the county tried a gas tax, in November 2016, it was rejected easily, with 62 percent voting against it.

On their website, NoVRF.com, supporters of the petition effort say they don’t dispute that many of the road projects the county has proposed to pay for with VRF funds may be necessary. However, they argue that the county is already receiving millions of dollars in new revenue from a gas tax increase approved by the Legislature in 2017, and they think that should be more than enough.

“To sum it up, the additional gas tax money the county currently gets from the state far exceeds what the VRF will bring in, and when the VRF is voted down, the county will still have an additional $5 to $13 million per year to do the road repairs that actually need to be done,” their website says.

For their part, the county has always said that the new revenue has certainly gone a long way in helping address long-deferred maintenance and other critical needs in the county’s transportation infrastructure, but it simply doesn’t go far enough.

From the county’s webpage dedicated to explaining the VRF: “While revenue provided through state legislation passed in 2017 (House Bill 2017) provides support for several important transportation programs – including resurfacing major roads, ADA curb ramp upgrades for people with disabilities and safety projects – it is not enough to meet the larger needs of resurfacing local roads and building capital projects.”

The petitioners have made it possible to remotely sign the petition by downloading and printing copies of an electronic signature sheet that can be found here, and mailing it to chief petitioner Herb Chow at P.O. Box 2753, Clackamas, OR 97015. To get the measure on the ballot, petitioners need to collect the valid signatures of at 8,011 Clackamas County registered voters by May 22.

The fee, which is technically $60 paid every two years when you renew your vehicle registration, would be split between the county and cities (based on population) and would go toward maintaining local roads and improving traffic flow and congestion with new capital projects. Motorcycle owners would pay only $15 per year, while campers, motor homes, registered farm vehicles and trailers would be exempt.

Barring any other increases, it would raise your biennial registration fee from $112 to $172. If it survives the petition process or the vote in November, the fee would raise an estimated $11 million per year, with about $5.5 million staying in the county’s budget, around $1 million going toward special multi-jurisdictional projects, and the remainder being split among the cities based on population.

Canby, the county’s seventh-largest city, would receive an estimated $331,281 annually. The two largest cities in Clackamas County, Lake Oswego and Oregon City, would get about $700,000 each, while the smallest, Barlow, would see only $2,724.

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