October 17, 2013 | XLIII 41

Assembly OKs tax on vehicles

After tabling it for nearly 10 months, the Haines Borough Assembly passed an ordinance establishing a motor vehicle registration tax Oct. 8.

  The ordinance, which creates a $22 flat tax vehicle owners must pay every two years, came back before the assembly at the recommendation of outgoing manager Mark Earnest.

The assembly voted 4-2 to approve the tax, with assembly members Dave Berry and Norm Smith opposed. The ordinance initially came before the assembly last fall as a potential solution to dealing with numbers of abandoned and junked vehicles.

  “I just really don’t think it’s a good idea for the borough to get into the tow truck business,” said Smith.

  The borough issued a request for proposals last winter to see if a private company would be up to the task of towing and removing junked and abandoned vehicles, but the sole bid by Bigfoot Auto Service was deemed inadequate.

  Residents must pay the tax for every registered vehicle they own, and the fee is the same for every vehicle regardless of model, size, or year.

  Assembly member Debra Schnabel, who had previously voted against the ordinance, said she changed her mind after the private sector option was exhausted. “I think this is the next-best thing we can do,” she said.

  Schnabel asked the other assembly members whether they thought the ordinance should be set for a future public hearing, as it seemed to pop up on the agenda unexpectedly after a 10-month hiatus. The reception to the suggestion was lukewarm, and assembly member Jerry Lapp said the assembly had heard from the public enough on the issue.

  The tax will come into effect January 1, 2015, and should raise approximately $40,000 annually, Earnest said. The revenue, which can be used prior to 2015, will be used in the short term to purchase a tow truck, create a secure impound yard, and cover administrative costs. A junk vehicle disposal program will be a long-term goal, Earnest said.

  In his recommendation, Earnest wrote the small impound yard would be located at the old city shop, though Mayor Stephanie Scott clarified the details of the plan would be subject to approval by the assembly and Earnest’s ideas were merely a suggestion.

  “It’s a plan; it’s not in statute,” Scott said.  

  After one or two years of operation, the program can be reevaluated and the tax adjusted or removed, Earnest said.

  Other communities, including Anchorage, Bethel, Cordova, Juneau, Ketchikan, Petersburg, and Sitka, have adopted motor vehicle registration taxes.