Luzerne County Councilman Edward Brominski said he has obtained negative feedback about a proposed $5 vehicle registration fee from more than 100 people in recent days through emails, phone calls and in-person conversations.
A handful of others were amenable to the fee, but he learned through further discussion with them that they mistakenly thought fee revenue would help fix roads in their neighborhoods that are not county-owned. Those in opposition say the addition of yet another government fee is unacceptable, he said.
“It’s a touchy issue to a lot of people,” said Brominski.
Brominski, who is against the fee and often in the minority on council, argues the decision on whether to impose it on 281,000 eligible vehicles in the county should not be left to as few as six people — the number of council members constituting a majority vote on the 11-member panel.
He told his council colleagues last week he will propose placing a question on the November ballot allowing voters to decide. That would provide plenty of time for the county administration and other fee advocates to educate the public and make a case for its benefits, he asserted.
“The people might want it. Allow them to have a say,” Brominski said.
County Manager C. David Pedri asked council to consider the fee because PennDOT is now providing a dollar-for-dollar match on vehicle fee funds spent on bridges.
The state will match up to $2 million annually in each county that enacts the fee, and 20 of the state’s 67 counties have added the fee since state legislators authorized the option in 2013, Pedri said.
A fee would yield an estimated $1.4 million annually, not including the state match for bridges, he said.
The county owns 304 bridges and approximately 128 miles of roads. Around 60 percent, or 182, of county bridges have cracks, erosion or other evidence of deterioration that must be repaired to meet current standards, officials have said.
Council members started discussing the proposal last week but said they won’t take any action until they hear a PennDOT presentation at their April 10 or April 24 meeting.
No council members have publicly committed to support the fee.
Councilman Harry Haas said he’d be more receptive if the fee revenue was being used to reduce real estate taxes. He also questioned if the fee receipts would hit the $1.4 million target every year because vehicle owners who opt for a two-year registration will pay $5 instead of $10.
“The match will be very helpful, but this upsets a lot of taxpayers out there,” Haas said.
Councilwoman Jane Walsh Waitkus appreciates that the fee “spreads out the pain” instead of solely impacting property owners, but she plans to press the state because she needs more explanation.
Many residents rely on county-owned roads and bridges, she noted.
“Not everyone lives in Kingston and Wilkes-Barre,” she said. “You have to represent them too.”
Pedri said the additional revenue stream would allow the county to tackle several small projects or one bigger one annually.
The administration has urged municipalities to assume ownership of county bridges in their areas, but only Butler Township and Black Creek Township have accepted — one each — to date, Pedri told council.
Pedri said he will continue to seek outside grants and noted council could repeal the fee at any time if the state stops providing a match or the revenue is no longer needed. He stressed the vehicle fee revenue would be segregated and can be used for roads and bridges only.
Councilman Stephen A. Urban said he will grill the state on how much gas tax is invested in county roads.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.