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York County could add $5 to vehicle registration
York County motorists could be hit with a $5 user fee to help fund work on deteriorating county-owned bridges.
The fee would be tacked onto state vehicle registration and is expected to generate $2.2 million yearly, making up for shortcomings in state funding, county officials told commissioners during their weekly meeting on Wednesday.
"This is targeted for infrastructure," said John Klinedinst, the county engineer.
After the meeting, commissioners said the fee is essentially a user fee and is a fair way of addressing funding needs.
"The people who are paying this are the people using the bridges," said Doug Hoke, vice president commissioner, noting infrastructure is essential to the county's economy and that a few organizations, such as the York County Economic Alliance, have voiced their support of the fee.
If approved, the fee could be in place by the end of the year and would be charged to all vehicles, including trailers, that are registered to an address in the county.
Officials said most of the county's bridges are nearing the end of their lifespan but state funding isn't keeping up with demand to fix or replace them.
The county owns 95 bridges, and 66 percent were deemed to be in fair or poor condition. Six percent are in critical need of repair while 28 percent are considered to be in either good or excellent condition, Steve Malesker, an engineer with the York City-based firm C.S. Davidson, told commissioners.
The oldest bridge is 127 years old, and the average age of the bridges is 65 years old. Most bridges have a typical lifespan of 50 years, he said.
Lower weight restrictions have been put in place on some bridges, causing a safety hazard since some emergency vehicles are too heavy to use those bridges.
"We have to be proactive and not reactive," Susan Byrnes, the president commissioner, said. "We need this to maintain our bridges."
York County relies solely on state funding for bridge work and maintenance. It receives about $1.7 million yearly in liquid fuel funds, which is funded through the state's gas tax, and Marcellus Shale Legacy funds, money paid by natural gas drillers.
But it costs $1.8 million on average to replace a bridge, and the county spends about $600,000 yearly on maintenance, which is rapidly depleting the county's bridge fund. The county does not contribute any money from its general fund.
The York County Planning Commission and Klinedinst first rang the alarm bells in 2014 about costs outpacing funding. At the time, officials projected the county's bridge fund will have a negative balance in 2020.
How it would work: The General Assembly enabled counties to institute a $5 fee when it passed the 2013 transportation spending plan, also known as Act 89.
PennDOT would be in charge of collecting the fee, but it won't take a portion of what it collects; instead, it would send all the money back to York County, said Will Clark, the planning commission's chief of transportation planning.
"Every penny will be used for bridge repair," said Commissioner Chris Reilly. "We really have no other option."
Act 89 also allows counties to give a portion of the fees to municipalities for work on their bridges, but there are no intentions to do, Clark said.
"The county needs the money now," he said. "A few years from now we may re-evaluate it."
Timeline: If approved by commissioners, the fee would go in place in October, and motorists who renew their vehicle registration in the last three months of the year would be charged the fee. Everyone would be charged the fee in 2017, Clark said.
Commissioners approved advertising the ordinance to enact the fee, and a final vote is expected at the end of May or early June, said Glenn Smith, the county solicitor.
Between now and then, the commissioners are hoping to hear from residents, but no special public meetings or hearings are planned.
However, Byrnes encouraged residents to come to the commissioners' weekly meetings, typically held 10 a.m. each Wednesday at the county administration building at 28. E. Market St., or contact the commissioners directly to voice their support or opposition.
— Reach Greg Gross at firstname.lastname@example.org.