Central Point to vote on fuel tax

CENTRAL POINT — Residents will decide in September whether to impose a gas tax of 3 cents per gallon to repair city roads.

City officials say the tax would raise $500,000 or more annually and place the burden of fixing roads on motorists, who do the most damage. Opponents say truckers, tourists and local residents will go elsewhere to fill their tanks.

Bill Christie, Grange Co-Op petroleum operations manager, said he opposes the tax but was happy it would be decided by voters rather than "just being passed by the council."

"If it goes to a vote, I think it'll be defeated," Christie said. "My only thing was I wish they had let the voters decide on the street utility fee, too."

"The fuel tax is something that definitely would not have gone over well if they just passed it."

The council had approved a gas tax by a 3-2 vote in January, but City Attorney Doug Engle said it needed four votes to pass, according to his interpretation of the city charter.

Council members present at a May 14 meeting unanimously approved putting the gas tax on the September ballot. Bruce Dingler was absent.

The tax could raise between $450,000 and $650,000 or more, city officials said. If anticipated revenues were generated, an existing $5 monthly street utility fee would be eliminated, they said.

An advantage to the gasoline tax over the street utility fee is that residents could choose whether to pay the tax by where they fill their gas tanks, said Councilwoman Carol Fischer.

"It's hard to ask for money in these hard times, but I guess you've got to get the money from somewhere and this way it's up to the voters," she said. "I'm real happy it's going to the voters."

Councilman Mike Quilty said he supports the gas tax.

"It's about taking care of the things we need to take care of," he said. "Basically, it's like preventative maintenance on our car. If we don't take and put the money to keep them (roads) in good shape, we're going to pay a lot of money to replace them when something on them fails," Quilty said.

"I'm not willing to take and, 10 years from now, look at people and say I wasn't willing to reach into my own pocket to pay the needed cost to maintain our roads when it needed to be done."

Quilty, who chairs the Rogue Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the city is missing out on state and federal grants that require local matches for transportation projects.

"There are millions of dollars that are available out there for transportation projects and I hate seeing money going to places like Eugene and Portland because they have local money to put up against grants but we can't do it because we are solely dependent on the state gas tax," Quilty said.

"It's money we've paid for anyway because it's tax money and the people of Central Point should have a chance to use it. "¦ And the longer we wait to fund basic repairs, the more expensive they become."

To see more details on the proposal, go to www.mailtribune.com/cpfueltax and click on "Proposed Fuel Tax Ordinance."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.

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