Public meeting set on vehicle fee

LOCK HAVEN — The Clinton County commissioners will hold a public meeting on the potential $5 vehicle registration fee, the latest in a series of actions on the highly controversial proposal.

Commissioners were poised to vote on implementing a $5 fee to the registration of trucks, cars, motorcycles, trailers, RVs and campers in the county to help fund road and bridge repairs.

The funds generated would be used to gain matching federal funds through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Commissioners Pete Smeltz, Jeff Snyder and Paul Conklin last week tabled a vote on the fee due to public opposition and calls for more transparency.

Yesterday, the commissioners announced they will hold a public meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 27, in their meeting room on the second floor of the Piper Building.

Members of the public are invited to attend to share their thoughts or ask questions.

Written comments will also be accepted.

The commissioners said they will discuss how the fee would work if it went into effect and explain county government funding processes.

Smeltz, board chairman, said two more municipalities have expressed support for the $5 fee, though he didn’t identify them.

He said he hopes they will comment publicly since “they’re the benefactors of this action … they represent the citizens within their jurisdiction.”

Since the county does not own any roads but owns two bridges, municipalities would receive funds from the $5 fee collection to repair their roads and bridges through an application process similar to other processes.

On behalf of Flemington Borough Council, Councilman Wayne Allison submitted a letter to the editor published in Monday’s edition of The Express proclaiming borough council’s support for the fee, saying it will increase the funding pool for repairing roads and bridges by $200,000 without forcing municipalities or the county to raise taxes.

At Monday’s work session, Lock Haven City Councilman Richard Morris asked if commissioners would be held to the consensus of the public meeting.

“I don’t think you’re ever bound by public comment” unless you choose to be, said Chief Clerk Jann Meyers.

Snyder said the public meeting is being held in response to accusations of a lack of transparency on the fee issue.

“I think we’re transparent,” he said, “but if the public thinks we’re not, then I think we need to make an effort to be more transparent.”

Another hot topic commissioners discussed Monday was a mandate by Gov. Tom Wolf to replace county voting machines with ones that have a paper trail by the November 2019 election.

The Wolf Administration announced the move in February, following news that Pennsylvania was one of the states targeted by hackers in the 2016 presidential election. But only Illinois reported that some of its systems were breached by hackers.

And the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said there is no evidence that election results were altered.

Both commissioners criticized Wolf’s mandate as “unfunded,” referencing the fact that there is $14.1 million available for all 67 counties in the state to replace their voting machines. The money comes from the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) Congress passed in 2002, which aimed to reform voting problems detected in the 2000 presidential election.

The HAVA funds, said Smeltz, are “a drop in the bucket” compared to what it will cost to replace all the voting machines.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult for counties to do … without raising taxes,” said Snyder.

Smeltz said he felt particularly frustrated by the mandate because he knows issues of hacking voting machines are not happening in Clinton County, since there was no evidence of Pennsylvania voting machines being compromised.

Commissioner Conklin will be out of the office all week, said Meyers.

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