Charging license fees to pay for Kent roads: Kent Council schedules public hearing on idea for raising funds

Dave George had just paid to renew his vehicle license tabs so he had doubts about a proposal by the Kent City Council to start charging an annual city vehicle license registration fee of anywhere from $10 to $20. “Every time you blink an eye they tax something,” said George, of Kent, as he walked out of the Kent Licensing Agency office Tuesday at a strip mall along Washington Avenue South.

Dave George of Kent places his tabs on his car outside the Kent Licensing Agency Office Tuesday. While he doesn’t like the idea of added fees

Dave George of Kent places his tabs on his car outside the Kent Licensing Agency Office Tuesday. While he doesn’t like the idea of added fees

Dave George had just paid to renew his vehicle license tabs, so he had doubts about a proposal by the Kent City Council to start charging an annual city vehicle license registration fee of anywhere from $10 to $20.

“Every time you blink an eye they tax something,” said George, of Kent, as he walked out of the Kent Licensing Agency office Tuesday at a strip mall along Washington Avenue South.

Right now, the state charges a basic annual fee of $43.75 to renew vehicle tabs. The Regional Transit Authority tax in King County, in turn, adds an extra charge to the tabs based on the vehicle’s value.

But the idea of a new city fee started to make sense to George when he heard the money would be used to maintain streets and even help fund new overpasses or underpasses to separate streets from railroad tracks to avoid traffic delays.

“I used to go to South 277th Street all the time because of the overpass (over the railroad tracks),” George said. “That doesn’t sound like too bad of a deal.”

The Council has scheduled a public hearing at 7 p.m. July 20 at City Hall about whether to form a transportation benefit district in order to charge a vehicle-license registration fee. The Council needs to form a benefit district, which would be composed of Council members, before it can charge a fee of up to $20 without voter approval.

The state Legislature passed a law in 2007 that allows a city or county government to create local transportation benefit districts and impose a local vehicle registration fee to fund transportation projects.

The Council can adopt the fee without voter approval by keeping the cost at $20 or less. Voters would need to approve any fee higher than $20 with a ceiling of $100 per vehicle.

Council President Jamie Perry said she is unsure whether the Council will vote right after the public hearing about whether to form the transportation benefit district. Perry added she wants to give residents plenty of opportunity even beyond the required public hearing to let the Council know what they think of a vehicle license fee.

“I’m going to have to hear from the public,” Perry said in a Tuesday phone interview about whether she favors the vehicle fee. “I’m undecided at this point. I know we need to fund transportation projects; I’m just not sure yet.”

George said the key for him would be to know what projects the money would cover.

“I don’t like it when they throw money into a fund and you have no idea what it’s for but you still pay,” George said.

Council members indicated support for a vehicle-license fee at a May workshop with city staff and consultants about how to fund an estimated $389 million of transportation projects over the next 25 years, including $137 million of street-railroad grade separation projects.

Perry agreed with George that any vehicle-fee money collected would need to go to specific street projects.

“I wouldn’t be comfortable doing it without saying what, exactly, we were spending the money on,” Perry said.

A $10 vehicle license fee would raise just more than $1 million per year for the city, or an estimated $28 million over 25 years of street projects. A $20 fee would jump those numbers to more than $2 million per year and $56 million over 25 years.

The cities of Des Moines, Edmonds, Lake Forest Park, Olympia, Prosser and Shoreline have adopted $20 vehicle tab fees over the last couple of years to pay for street projects, according to the state Department of Licensing.

Developers to pay their share

To help pay for street projects, the Council voted 6-1 on July 6 to approve an ordinance to charge developers a transportation impact fee for new housing or commercial projects constructed in the city.

Developers will have to pay a fee of $3,702 per single-family home and $2,403 per apartment unit, according to the ordinance. The fees for commercial development will vary by square footage, including $51.90 per square foot for a service station with a mini-mart; $21.34 per square foot for a restaurant; and $17.32 per square foot for a new supermarket.

The fees are based on the number of new peak-hour vehicle trips generated by the project. The ordinance includes a clause that raises the fee a certain percentage each year through 2016.

City officials want to construct street-railroad grade separation projects over the next several years along South 228th Street, South 212th Street and Willis Street.

Meanwhile at the license office…

Kent resident Brad McDowell walked out of the vehicle license office shortly after George on Tuesday. McDowell hesitated about whether the city needs to levy a vehicle license fee.

“I’m not a huge fan of it overall because money is tight,” McDowell said. “I’d like to see them come up with other ways (to fund streets).”

When McDowell heard the Council recently passed the transportation impact fee and might consider a business license tax that would charge each company so much money per employee to help pay for roads, the vehicle fee had more appeal.

“As long as everyone pays, that’s good,” McDowell said of the other fees. “And they need to get projects done and stick to the costs.”

He also wants to know exactly where the money would be spent.

“It needs to be itemized,” McDowell said. “If they say this amount is going here and plan ahead for this, I’d be willing to accept it. And they can say what they want because word are good, but actions are louder than words.”

Vehicle fees: Good idea or not?

What: Public hearing about proposed vehicle license registration fee

When: 7 p.m. July 20

Where: Kent City Hall, 220 Fourth Ave. S.


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