Central Point approves controversial 3-cent-per-gallon gas tax

CENTRAL POINT — A controversial 3-cent-per-gallon fuel tax was approved by the City Council Thursday.

Set to be collected beginning in May, the tax is expected to generate between $450,000 and $650,000 toward street repairs and improvements.

While the matter yielded only negative response at a pair of council meetings in recent weeks, council members approved the tax with a vote of 3-2 on Thursday.

The nearly 60 audience members left Thursday night's meeting after being told the measure had failed due to lack of a quorum.

According to the city charter, reviewed by City Recorder Deanna Casey after the meeting, a majority of elected council members — four members — must be present to conduct council business.

Any issues brought before the council for a decision, as long as a quorum is present, can be decided "by a majority of those present," Casey read from the city Web site.

Following the council's vote on the matter, City Attorney Doug Engle said that the issue did not generate a quorum of council members in favor of the tax.

Councilwoman Kay Harrison made the formal motion to approve the tax and, along with Councilmen Bruce Dingler and Matt Stephenson, voted in favor.

Newly elected council members Allen Broderick and Carol Fischer voted against the measure and Councilman Mike Quilty was absent.

After the meeting, Mayor Hank Williams acknowledged that the tax likely passed and said he would discuss the matter with city officials today.

If the tax legally passed Thursday, Williams noted, "then I guess it stands."

Aside from a confused council, Thursday's meeting brought dozens of frustrated audience members urging the city against passing the tax in favor of waiting for the Oregon Legislature to increase the state gas tax. Medford attorney Sydnee Dreyer, representing several local entities, warned that motorists would bypass the city for fuel needs and challenged the council on statements made in recent weeks regarding the impact of the proposed tax.

She told the council to face the "likelihood you will lose that commercial business you hope to tax" and called the proposed tax "the wrong solution at the wrong time."

Paul Romain, a spokesperson for the Oregon Petroleum Marketers Association, which advocates for businesses that sell fuel, said his organization was lobbying for a fuel tax increase at the state level and pointed out that "we hate local gas taxes."

Councilman Matt Stephenson told audience members he was "not going to hold my breath" for a state gas tax increase and that he did not agree that a city gas tax would effect efforts at the state level.

Councilwoman Kay Harrison said, "All we're asking is for the streets to be fixed. We want streets, sidewalks and gutters."

Tammy Conn, an employee of a Chevron station in the city, presented 500 signatures and promised to "be the chief petitioner" against the gas tax, if approved.

She noted the possibility of a referendum before being sent away believing the council didn't have a quorum. "I don't think collecting 930 signatures is going to be a problem."

Medford-Jackson County Chamber President Brad Hicks said his board voted to oppose the city's efforts for a gas tax and urged the city to wait for a state gas tax increase for needed street revenues.

Harrison pointed out that she was a council member during a previous attempt to institute a city gas tax which was "shot down." She said "The roads are in worse shape now than when we tried this the first time."

Interim community development director Matt Samitore said the tax would be enacted in May, though initial reports called for April.

For details on the gas tax, as proposed, visit the city Web site, www.ci.central-point.or.us.

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