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By 2-1 vote, Centre officials approve fee for local use

BELLEFONTE — As expected, the additional annual $5 fee for non-exempt vehicles registered in Centre County will remain in place for another five years.

By virtue of a 2-1 vote on Tuesday, the Centre County Board of Commissioners passed Resolution No. 3 of 2022, which extends the fee for local use through 2027. Chair Michael Pipe and commissioner Mark Higgins voted in favor of extending the fee for local use, while commissioner Steve Dershem voted against it.

Pipe talked about the significance of the resolution.

“The importance of fixing our infrastructure here in Centre County, across the state, across the country … we know that it’s needed more than ever,” Pipe said. “If we don’t fix it now, we’re going to fix it later at a higher price.”

Higgins pointed out that $5 fee benefits the county in numerous ways.

“If you have a million dollar bridge repair, the state doesn’t give you a million dollars. They don’t,” Higgins said. “If you want any money from the state, you have to come up with some percentage of that yourself — whether it’s a quarter of the money, half the money or 20 percent of the money, the state doesn’t just give you the cash.”

Still, Dershem said that he couldn’t get behind extending the fee for local use.

“Particularly with trailers, as I’ve said before, it’s onerous,” Dershem said. “I will grant that every dollar has be spent on this program. It’s just not one that I can support.”

The ordinance was first enacted in 2017. The fees are collected as part of the state vehicle registration process and paid back to the county in June and December of each year to be used for road and bridge projects. Act 89 of 2013 allows counties to impose the fee and all of the money returned to the county is to be allocated to municipalities.

In 2021, Centre County collected around $600,000 from the fee.

The ordinance establishing the fee had a sunset clause after five years. According to Centre County senior transportation planner Anne Messner, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation requires 90 days notice if the fee collection will continue.

Some 6,000 vehicles in Centre County were exempt from registration and the additional fee when the original ordinance was enacted. Retirees who are eligible for the flat $10 state registration fee also do not have to pay the additional $5.

According to county records, the fee has allocated more than $2 million to help fund 16 bridge and road projects in 15 municipalities since 2017.

Because state and federal road and bridge funds require a local contribution, the fee for local use allocations have been able to leverage more than $8 million in funds.

The fee for local use is part of the county’s Local Transportation Funding Program, also established in 2017, to provide flexibility among a variety of funds for transportation projects. It also includes the Liquid Fuels Fund, allocated by PennDOT from state fuel taxes and Act 13 allocations from PennDOT for at-risk bridges.

Also on Tuesday, the commissioners approved a request for statements of interest for professional engineering services to inspect the construction of multiple bridge rehabilitation and construction projects.

According to Pipe, it is not connected to the bridge collapse that took place in Pittsburgh recently.

“No, that was started, I believe in 2017 and 2018 with grants that we received those years, so this is continuation of that,” Pipe said.

Mesner further explained the inspection services.

“This is part of the multimodal bridge bundle projects that were awarded in ’18 and ’19. As part of those projects, we are required to have inspection services for those contracts,” Mesner said. “It takes awhile to get our bridges fixed.”

She said that bridges are typically inspected once or twice a year.

“It depends on their condition. We actually have very few that are inspected more frequently than once a year,” Mesner said.

The Centre County commissioners will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 15 at the Willowbank Building. The meeting is open to the public and masks are required. The meeting will also be televised live by C-NET.

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