01/27/10 — $5 car fee proposed for public transport

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$5 car fee proposed for public transport

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 27, 2010 1:46 PM

A proposal to tack a $5 fee on vehicle registrations in Wayne County to raise money for public transportation received a less-than-enthusiastic reception Tuesday from the Goldsboro-Wayne Transportation Authority.

Board members declined to be swayed by authority director Alan Stubbs' attempt to get them to move quickly and approve the proposal before adjourning.

A state law approved last year provides two options to raise money for public transportation -- a local sales tax or a registration fee of up to $7 on vehicles.

The sales tax option would require approval through a public referendum. The registration fee can be enacted by county commissioners without any public vote.

Stubbs argued that the revenues generated by the fee would help offset dwindling local funding and could be used to help the county and city provide matches for state and federal transportation grants.

Stubbs provided a chart showing how much the city and county would receive based on fees ranging from $1 to $7 per vehicle. He recommended a $5 fee, which would increase the cost of vehicle registration from $28 to $33.

There are currently 93,544 registered vehicles in the county. Based on population, if the fee was set at $5, the county would receive $317,114 (67.8 percent of the total collection) and the city of Goldsboro $150,605 (32.2 percent of the total).

"I have three vehicles and that would be $15 I don't mind paying," Stubbs said. "This would go a long way for the city to make its local matches on the (Union Station) train station, which they have got to have money to do that.

"The county could use its money to put into DSS, Council on Aging, the Council on the Blind and Wayne Opportunity Center, anything that the country can use for public transportation. They could use it for local matches. It is a great opportunity."

Stubbs said he planned to lobby commissioners and city council members about the fee.

"I am listening," said Commissioner J.D. Evans, who represents commissioners on the board.

"It would not put a burden on the people. I'd rather have this than a sales tax," Stubbs said

He added that it was "very important" that the authority board lend its support to the proposal as soon as possible for it to become effective July 1.

"The longer you wait, the more you may have to be put onto it (fee)," he said. "This is something that we need to go ahead and get into the works. I think it is a great opportunity to raise the local matches.

"Just to build this facility (new GATEWAY transfer station), I am not sure what it would cost, maybe $4.5 million to $5 million, and you are looking at a match there of $500,000."

Board members wanted to know if the fee would a "one-time charge."

It would be a flat fee paid each time a person renewed their vehicle registration, Stubbs said.

Evans wanted to know how long the fee would be in place.

"You do it until you repeal it," Stubbs said.

He said he would not recommend doing it for just one year, then repealing it.

"Goldsboro needs the money for its local match," he said.

Stubbs said the fees charged GATEWAY riders do not completely subsidize the system. As for the county, the revenues could benefit departments like DSS, he said.

Evans agreed that was a selling point.

"But you have to find out the feelings of your constituents. If we can't sell it to them ...," Evans began.

"I don't have a vote," said ex-officio member and Wayne Opportunity director John Chance. "I think this it is a good option, but I think you have to be very careful with it like J.D. said. I think it should be a limited time period, similar to GTP (Global Trans-Park) and I think it should be for a specific purpose."

When the Global TransPark in Kinston was started, a $5 surcharge was added to all vehicle registrations in the region for five years to raise money for industrial development.

Stubbs replied that the charge would be for a specific purpose.

"Public transportation is all that it can be used for," he said.

"I understand that," Chance said. "But I don't think that you can sell it on public transportation alone because I don't think that deserves a lot of public emotion, but if you say it is a one-time purpose for matches for Union Station or things that we have coming in the next five years, I think we can sell it.

"But just to put in a flat fee for your car registration, I think is a mistake, especially in these times with the economy the way it is. Plus, you are getting ready to get into property revaluation with the county."

Evans said commissioners will soon hold a planning retreat and he could broach the subject at that time.

But Stubbs did not give in.

"If the board here does not support it now, it will be the end of March," he said. "I am asking the board to support it."

"You want to get it now?" board Chairman Don Chatman said.

"I think the board should support it, and that is what I am asking," Stubbs said. "If the board doesn't want to support it, so be it. I rest my case. Just because you support it does not mean it will necessarily happen."

Board member Bruce Gates agreed with Chance.

"I don't think that we can sell it any other way," he said.

Without it, the city is going to have to come up with another $750,000 to $800,000 match, Stubbs said.

"Is it this board's responsibility to figure out how the city and county can raise their funds?" Gates said.

"No, but we cannot run GATEWAY without the support of the city and the county," Stubbs said.

Stubbs told Evans that for the first six months of the year revenue from county agencies that utilize GATEWAY was down by $110,000 because of county cutbacks.

Chatman suggested letting Evans speak to commissioners at their retreat.

"Once we get their response we can go from there," he said.

However, Stubbs said he thought it was important for commissioners to know that the GATEWAY board supports the proposal.

"I am not sure at this point the board supports this," Gates said.