Commissioners seek feedback on vehicle registration fee

BELLEFONTE — The Centre County Board of Commissioners is seeking feedback on a proposed $5 increase to vehicle registration fees.

Last week, Commissioner Mike Pipe brought forward the potential increase, which stems from a law called Act 89 that was passed by Gov. Tom Corbett in 2013. The law established a local use fund within the state treasury, where counties can choose to pass an ordinance that requires a $5 fee to be collected by PennDOT upon vehicle registration and registration renewal. Centre County would be the 15th county in Pennsylvania to pass the ordinance, which would benefit liquid fuels projects, or projects to help with transportation and road infrastructure needs, across the county’s municipalities.

During their Tuesday morning meeting, the commissioners agreed to send out a letter by the end of this week that will request feedback from county municipalities. Pipe said that the municipalities will have until either Feb. 24 to mail their feedback or March 1 to email their feedback.

“I’d like to find out from the 35 municipalities if this is something that would be a value to them, and if it is a value to them, would we actually be able to leverage this money to pull in additional state and federal dollars?” asked Commissioner Mark Higgins. “Because I do know now, from serving on the municipal planning organization, if there is a road project, some local municipality or the county or maybe both, shipped money in to make sure that that project happened.”

Town hall meetings will also be set up for community members, along with municipality and planning staff, to voice their thoughts on the matter, with one meeting most likely in late February and another one after the municipalities’ deadlines.

At the last meeting, Pipe said that the $5 fee could bring in an additional $587,000 each year to invest in county transportation projects, based on the projection of 117,400 registered vehicles, as of April 10, 2016, which is in addition to the $187,000 that the county already puts out on average each year in liquid fuels money. Since then, PennDot provided an update that shows that as of Dec. 4, 2016, there were 120,537 registered vehicles in the county. With the updated registration numbers from PennDot, Pipe said the fee would bring in an additional $602,685 for liquid fuels projects.

In the draft of the letter that will go out to the municipalities, Pipe mentions the need for the additional revenue, which will allow the county to fund more transportation projects. Each year since 1988, Centre County has awarded an average of $184,842.67 in liquid fuels grants to its municipalities. Each year since 1995, the county has received $1,008,010.24 in application requests from municipalities for these grants.

Pipe said some of the benefits of adding the fee would include increased safety, decreased damage to vehicles, local job creation, value to economic development, and it would benefit locally-owned businesses.

Also inside the letter to the municipalities is a survey that asks various questions, including what are some of the transportation projects they have done and what are their future needs in terms of liquid fuels projects.