Central Point won't push for city fuel tax

With a 6-cent per gallon state gas tax hike on the horizon, Central Point City Council members on Thursday decided not to ask voters for a 3-cent local fuel tax in September.

"The discussion last winter when council started talking about the gas tax was that they would look seriously at a local gas tax unless the Legislature came through with some additional transportation funding," City Administrator Phil Messina said Friday.

The state gas-tax increase, part of a transportation package initiated by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, would yield an additional $350,000 for Central Point street projects, Messina said.

Under the bill passed by the Legislature in May, the state gas tax will rise to 30 cents a gallon in January 2011, or earlier if the state has two consecutive quarters of 2 percent or more employment growth, The Associated Press reported.

"All that's left is for the governor to sign the bill and he's the one that started this ball rolling, so there's no reason to believe he's not going to sign it," Messina added.

First proposed last year — but tabled by city officials due to opposition by local business owners and trucking industry supporters — the local fuel tax increase could have yielded between $450,000 and $650,000, allowing city officials to do away with an existing $5 per month street utility fee.

Bill Christie, petroleum operations manager for Grange Co-op, said he and other opponents of the city's proposed tax preferred an "across the board state tax" to ensure fair competition from one city to the next.

"I think this is much better than something on the local level and I don't think it's going to be referred to the voters," Christie said Friday.

"(The state tax increase) is being supported by too many people now "¦ no one wants to see any more city taxes."

Councilwoman Kay Harrison voiced frustration that the state increase would yield fewer dollars for the city, cost motorists more and keep the $5 monthly fee in place.

"We almost didn't have any choice but to get rid of ours with how the state put the gas tax and said cities couldn't do their own," Harrison said.

"But with the state doing their own, it won't be enough for us to take off our street utility fee "¦ and it won't be nearly as much as what we thought we would have gotten with our 3-cent tax."

Harrison said local control would be less with state dollars, too.

"With us doing our own gas tax, we could have used the money to leverage for different kinds of grants "¦ I don't think politicians always think the ramifications through."

The city could reconsider a local hike if voters challenge the state tax increase, Messina said.

"If the state increase gets referred and defeated by the voters, the Central Point Council is going to be talking about a gas tax again," Messina said.

"We easily have $20 million in street repairs and we'll be getting about $700,000 a year from the state. That doesn't go very far."

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

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