County leaders considering higher taxes, fees
Spokane County drivers may be required to pay an extra $20 per year to register their vehicles and voters may be asked to approve an extra 3.75 cents per gallon in fuel taxes, starting in 2011.
Government leaders from around the county were told Friday those are among several options to raise about $20 million a year for road projects. The county could take up the question of higher vehicle licensing fees next year, but only if city governments in the county agree.
“But we’re not going to do this if you’re all going to sit on your hands,” County Board Chairman Todd Mielke told the Spokane Regional Council of Governments. “Everybody’s going to have to decide whether you’re in or out.”
State law allows county commissioners to add a fee of up to $20 per vehicle on license tabs. That would raise as much as $9 million per year. Voters could also be asked to add 3.75 cents to the fuel tax, which would add about $10 million. About two-thirds could be used for road maintenance, and a third for new roads.
Still to be decided would be how to divide the money: by population, which would be best for the City of Spokane; by miles of road, which would be best for the county and its rural areas; or by vehicle miles traveled, which might be the fairest division for everyone, Mielke said.
Spokane Mayor Mary Verner, who serves on one of the regional council’s transportation subcommittees with Mielke, urged other elected officials to start discussing this with their colleagues. “Is this feasible, or is it not feasible?” she asked.
Spokane City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin said she thought the higher fees and taxes would be a “hard sell” with the public. Many voters wonder about government wasting the money it already gets, she said.
To help assure voters, the Transportation Benefit District that the county would set up may need to establish a public board to oversee the projects, to make sure the money is divided fairly among the different cities and the county, and that it’s spent where taxpayers were told it would be, County Commissioner Mark Richard said.
The transportation district may also need to consider a surtax on electric cars or other vehicles that don’t use standard fuel, City Councilman Al French said. The increase of those vehicles will mean the revenue from gasoline taxes will go down, but the number of vehicles and the wear and tear on the roads won’t, he said.