Seven of 11 Luzerne County Council members voted to introduce a new $5 vehicle fee ordinance Tuesday, which means the proposal will advance to a public hearing and possible final adoption in May.
Councilman Robert Schnee, one of the seven, said he will propose an amendment that would end the fee if the state stops providing a match.
The fee on 281,000 vehicles would yield an estimated $1.4 million annually to repair the county’s 304 bridges and approximately 128 miles of county roads. The state will match up to $2 million to fix bridges in each county with a $5 fee, but only once, a PennDOT official has said.
Also voting for the ordinance introduction were Eugene Kelleher, Tim McGinley, Christopher Perry, Sheila Saidman, Matthew Vough and Jane Walsh Waitkus.
Council members Edward Brominski, Harry Haas, Linda McClosky Houck and Stephen A. Urban voted against the introduction.
Walsh Waitkus said she was shocked that numerous people have approached her urging her to support the fee.
“People are hungry for some improvement,” she said, insisting she informed these fee supporters the money would be spent on county infrastructure only.
She also encouraged the administration to post before-and-after photographs of projects funded by the fee if it passes to show the public how the money is spent.
McGinley said he will support Schnee’s amendment and the fee because he does not want to lose the chance for the county to double its investment.
Kelleher said citizens also asked him to vote for the fee so the county does not “throw away a $1.4 million match.”
But Brominski argued the fee unfairly forces vehicle owners countywide to pay more for infrastructure that is only in some municipalities. He believes citizens who support the fee mistakenly assume it will help fix potholes and other problems on roads owned by municipalities or the state.
Instead of offering a match tied to a burdensome fee, Urban said the state should be providing more money to counties from an increased state gasoline tax as the state has done for municipalities.
Schnee said the gas tax increase is “totally ridiculous,” but the county can’t keep “kicking the can down the road” to address its infrastructure problems.
Several citizens attended the meeting to voice opposition to the fee, with some calling for specifics on how the revenue would be spent. Two men said they will be hit hard because they own several vehicles.
Jackson Township Police Chief James Balavage was the exception, telling council he supports the fee for public safety.
In other business Tuesday, a council majority voted to:
• Reject McClosky Houck’s proposed ordinance requiring segregated budget tracking of all contracts or obligations that would cost the county more than $25,000 in one year or $75,000 in two or more years. McClosky Houck said the ordinance would provide more clarity on how budgeted funds would be spent.
• Grant the administration’s requests for a $150,000 budget reserve transfer and proposed contract extension with human resources management company ADP. Council had tabled a vote on the budget transfer ordinance, and the matter has been heavily debated.
• Purchase 220 electronic poll books from Election Systems & Software for $324,802. A $249,389 budget reserve transfer also was approved because council had budgeted $75,413 to lease the new poll books this year. The machines will speed up and improve voter processing on Election Day, officials have said.
The two budget transfers leave $4.5 million in the budget reserve, officials said.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.