November 29, 2012 | Volume 42, No.48

Car tax encounters opposition: Assembly wants more details on proposal

Haines Borough Assembly members and residents expressed misgivings about a proposed motor vehicle registration tax Tuesday.

The assembly postponed a vote on the motor vehicle tax ordinance, which would compel residents to pay $22 every two years for each of their vehicles regardless of size, type, and age. The tax would raise about $40,000 annually to assist in the removal and disposal of junked and abandoned vehicles.

Assembly members Dave Berry and Norm Smith continued to voice their firm opposition to the tax. Berry said he did not think the tax would create a net gain in revenue for the borough, and also expressed concern that the ordinance lacked significant amounts of detail and clarity.

“No offense to the manager, but this thing is really lacking...It hasn’t been shown to me, in this manager’s report, that this thing pencils out to be cost effective,” Smith said, referring to borough manager Mark Earnest’s memo explaining the specifics of the tax program.

Earnest outlined in the memo two ownership options for moving forward with the program. In the private option, the borough would issue a request for proposals “for the removal and processing of abandoned vehicles, the towing and processing of impounded vehicles, and the disposal of junk cars. (Funds from the tax) are used to offset any costs that are not covered by the private sector.”

Under the public option, the borough would be responsible for purchasing a tow truck, constructing an impound lot, purchasing equipment for the responsible drainage of vehicle fluids, and hiring or rearranging staff members to manage the program.

Assembly member Steve Vick reconsidered his earlier support of the tax program and said he had changed his mind on the issue.

“Right now I can’t support this. I like the idea of it, and I like that we’re trying to address a solution to the problem, but I think that maybe enforcement of current laws may be a first step,” Vick said, referring to a section of borough code which allows for the penalization of junked vehicle owners.

Assembly member Jerry Lapp, who attended the meeting telephonically, said he experienced a change of opinion similar to Vick’s, but stated he is “in favor of the concept” of the program. He also said it would be nice to be able to fix the problem without the implementation of a tax, but he thinks a small tax ultimately will be necessary.

Assembly member Joanne Waterman supported the idea behind the program as well, stating “the concept of this is that the administration wants to be proactive and responsible to our community to help us clean up our town.” Waterman also said the tax only makes more visible costs that residents are already being subjected to in other ways.

While Smith floated the idea of addressing the abandoned vehicle problem by seeking grants for junk vehicle round-up programs like a scrap metal barge, Mayor Stephanie Scott said the borough should pursue more independent funding options, like taxation.

“I think the time is coming when sustainability means doing it ourselves. And one way we do it ourselves is taxing ourselves. So I don’t think we can really depend on grants in order to remove the vehicles that need to be removed,” Scott said.

Residents Tom Ely, Bill Kurz, Paul Nelson, and Ed and LaVerne Bryant testified against the ordinance. No residents testified for the proposed ordinance, as written.

Assembly member Debra Schnabel was absent from the meeting.

The borough will revisit the motor vehicle tax ordinance during its meeting Dec. 11.