November 29, 2012 | Volume 42, No.48


A local motor vehicle tax to help clean up junked vehicles isn’t a bad idea, but critics seem to be saying they’d like to see the Haines Borough try other alternatives first, like enforcing local laws on junked cars.

However, because there are even better reasons for having a motor vehicle tax than controlling junkers, the assembly should get this measure on the books.

By law, residents in the townsite can’t have more than two unregistered cars parked on a lot without a junkyard permit.

A drive around town would reveal to the borough which properties are in violation of that law, and a friendly notice to owners of those properties would be a logical start. The next step would be to consider expanding that law to make it apply boroughwide.

At the same time, if the borough and others, such as Haines Friends of Recycling, were to work toward regular visits by a scrap metal collection barge, such service would make it easier for residents to do the right thing with their jalopies.

An approach might like this might be tried before taxing all vehicle owners to clean up the messes of a few.

A motor vehicle tax makes the most sense as a source of funding for expenses the borough incurs from all motor vehicle owners, namely the cost of building and maintaining borough roads.

A borough plan to resurface Third Avenue and bring it up to standard, with sidewalks, curbs and gutters, for example, will cost about $900,000. The borough currently is seeking that funding through the Alaska Legislature. However, in the event that a recount doesn’t return state Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, to office, the borough may have a long wait for that money.

(Moreover, using many of our chits with the legislature to maintain borough roads means that other local projects worthy of legislative funding never move up our “wish lists” – or never get on them.)

The borough takes some road construction money from its capital budget, the same pot the municipality draws from for expenses like new roofs and heating systems for aging borough facilities. In addition, most of the borough’s $590,000 annual public works budget goes toward maintaining local roads. Local property owners and consumers pay those bills through property and sales taxes.

All of which is to say, local roads cost a lot to maintain. Currently, we pay those bills by collecting money from sources other than the person who most directly uses and benefits from roads – the driver. As a “user fee” for driving on local roads, a local motor vehicle tax would be a fair, equitable and effective way to pay for road work.

The borough assembly might consider a motor vehicle tax at a rate of at least $25 per year per vehicle, and start building an account to pay for roads.

-- Tom Morphet