County tax on vehicle registration a nonstarter

A proposal to discuss an increase in vehicle registration fees was not warmly received by a majority of the county commissioners Tuesday.

Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe raised the idea of increasing vehicle registrations by $5 as part of the Act 89 transportation bill of 2013. According to Pipe, the bill gives counties the option of increasing the fee starting in 2015.

The fee increase would affect all nonexempt vehicles, including passenger vehicles, motorcycles and trucks, Pipe said. According to PennDOT, there are 116,515 nonexempt vehicles in Centre County, which would result in $582,575 in additional transportation investments.

Exempt vehicles include those registered to the commonwealth, municipal governments, Penn State, disabled veterans, POWs and Medal of Honor recipients and those used for mass transit and as emergency vehicles.

The county currently receives project money from the state through liquid fuels requests, Pipe said. A fee increase could increase the number of fuel allocations to different municipalities.

“To fill the gap, if we pass the ordinance, there would be an opportunity by 2025 to have about $800,000 in the communities for transportation projects,” he said. “If we continued on the same trajectory, there would be about $150,000.”

Pipe didn’t recommend the creation of an ordinance, but recommended opening dialogue with the municipalities of the county and identifying projects that need funded.

Chairman Steve Dershem said he applauded the effort to find opportunities to fund transportation projects, but didn’t support what he said would be a tax increase that would impact county residents. A fuel tax recently went into effect due to Act 89, and he said it would be bad timing to layer on another tax.

Vice Chairman Chris Exarchos said he wasn’t opposed to opening dialogue if it would lead to something, but since there was reluctance to impose the tax, the dialogue would serve no purpose.

“This was intended to assist counties who do own their own infrastructure,” he said, adding that because Centre County doesn’t own any roads or bridges, there would be no offset of county responsibilities.

Because he and Dershem were not on board to impose a fee increase, Exarchos said, discussions with county municipalities would be premature until they reach that consensus.

Pipe said the increase is not something that needs to be done in 2015 and can be discussed at a future point.