Public meeting Monday on $5 fee could be heated

LOCK HAVEN — Monday’s public meeting is the next in a series of events surrounding the possible addition of a contentious $5 fee to Clinton County motor vehicle registration costs.

Concerned citizens, dissenters and supporters of the fee are encouraged to come to the county Piper Building at 6 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 27, to voice their opinions, ask questions and hear from the commissioners what the fee would be used for and how government funds work.

Chief Clerk Jann Meyers said Commissioner Pete Smeltz is planning a presentation at the beginning of the public meeting to explain why commissioners are considering implementing the fee and what the procedures would be should it pass. He is also compiling information on structural problems with bridges that could be fixed with fee money.

Then, Meyers said, commissioners plan to open up the floor for questions and comments. Smeltz would like to address any misinformation about the fee first, she said.

Currently, the cost to register a passenger vehicle in Pennsylvania is $37. If the $5 fee were passed by commissioners, the registration cost would go up to $42.

Trucks, trailers, RVs, motor homes and motorcycles would also be subject to the $5 fee. Some households could be looking at an extra $15 to $20 in motor vehicle costs, and small businesses with vehicle fleets might be hit hard.

The story behind the $5 fee involves the Act 89 Transportation Plan of 2013, which aimed to invest $2.3 to $2.4 billion into the state’s transportation system over five years, focusing mostly on state roads and bridges, public transportation and local roads and bridges.

Within Act 89, there is a provision for counties to add a $5 vehicle registration fee to create additional revenue for their highways and bridges.

Commissioners have explained at previous meetings they would use the extra fee funds to repair roads in the county and gain Pennsylvania Department of Transportation match funds to repair bridges. PennDOT has around $44 million in Surface Transport Program (STP) funds dedicated to bridge rehabilitation. Every county is eligible for up to $2 million in STP funds, but the program requires a 100 percent match.

Clinton County owns two bridges but no roads. Funds gained from the $5 fee would go to municipalities around the county, using an application process similar to that of liquid fuels funds.

The commissioners’ intention to approve the $5 fee at their Aug. 9 voting meeting sparked ire among community members, many of whom said the county takes taxpayer money to foot the bill on projects that never succeed. The Express published an editorial condemning the fee, several members of the public voiced their opposition at that meeting and commissioners agreed to delay a vote on the fee.

Commissioners have said they are not beholden to the public’s opinion, and may choose to vote yes on the fee regardless of the outcome of the public meeting.