By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — As the city manager and City Council wrestle with building another challenging budget, a little known fee, which municipalities are authorized but not required to tack onto most motor vehicle registrations, could offer some relief.
Since 1997, state law has authorized municipalities to add up to a maximum of $5 to motor vehicle registration fees to support a transportation improvement fund. The proceeds of the fund must be applied solely to the cost of engineering and undertaking a wide variety of projects to enhance public transportation, including the repair and construction of roads, bridges, and parking facilities as well as investments in public transportation
The city currently levies a fee of $1.50 per vehicle. City Clerk Mary Reynolds said that in 2016 the city collected $30,077 from 20,718 transactions. If the city had charged the maximum of $5, it would have collected $103,590.
Last week the Municipal and County Government Committee of the New Hampshire House of Representatives endorsed House Bill 121, which would double the maximum fee municipalities could collect from $5 to $10. Supporters of the bill, which included local officials, regional planning commissions and transit organizations, told the committee that raising the maximum would restore the original purchasing power of the fee, which has been eroded by inflation during the past 20 years. A representative of the New Hampshire Municipal Association, which counts the bill among its priorities, stressed that it offered municipalities the option of funding improvements to their transportation networks with a user fee rather than property taxes. After the committee voted 19 to 1 to recommend the bill ought to pass it was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
No one spoke against the bill. However, despite widespread support and a favorable recommendation from the committee, the House roundly rejected a similar bill by a voice vote a year ago.
If the Legislature enacts and the governor endorses the bill, it would take effect on July 1, the beginning of the city's next fiscal year.
City Manager Scott Myers said that he has not raised the issue in the past, but may suggest increasing the fee when the council tackles the 2017-2018 budget in March. He said on Monday that he anticipates revenues from sources other than property taxes, including transfers of funds from the state, to be flat while expenses, particularly the contribution to the New Hampshire Retirement System and share of the cost of health insurance premiums, to increase sharply. "I'll give the council some options," Myers said.
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