Essex County considers fee for car registration

ELIZABETHTOWN – Essex County supervisors will consider adding an extra fee to car registrations.

The board voted Monday to let county Attorney Dan Manning draw up a local law adding $5 a year to register a car. County Manager Dan Palmer told supervisors that people register their cars for three years at a time, so it would mean an extra $15 each time a car is registered.

The law would still need to be introduced, a hearing would need to be held, and then the board would have to approve the final version of the law before it would become official.

The idea is to take the $200,000 to $300,000 the fee is anticipated to pull in and dedicate it to fixing the county’s roads. But several supervisors said at Monday’s meeting that they don’t believe it would help.

Westport town Supervisor Daniel Connell said that at the end of budget season when the county needs to balance the budget, whatever money is needed is often taken from the highway fund.

“I’m not sure that putting this $200,000 into highway is going to mean we’ll have $200,000 more in highway,” Connell said.

He said the last two times a similar proposal was on the table, the citizens of his town were largely against it.

Connell also noted that the fee would add a burden to small businesses with small fleets of vehicles.

“None of us want to put any more small businesses out of business, and what’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back?” Connell said. “It’s going to add up to some of these folks.”

Essex Supervisor Sharon Boisen suggested the county only charge the fee of people who mail their registration check to the state or pay for it online. In both of those cases, revenue that would normally go to the county goes exclusively to the state.

Supporters of the fee framed it as a way to generate revenue that won’t add to property taxes.

Connell called it a regressive tax, where people’s ability to pay it won’t have any impact on what they pay. But Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava argued that property tax is the most regressive tax there is, since property values and one’s ability to pay taxes can change so quickly.

He compared the fee to charging sewer or water rates for users.

“If we ever want to reduce the property tax levy, then these are the steps we’re going to need to take,” Scozzafava said.

Chesterfield Supervisor Gerald Morrow said it’s different from charging for water and sewer use, since people from all over use the county’s roads, not just people who have cars registered in the county.

Wilmington town Supervisor Randy Preston said he doesn’t particularly care for the fee but will support it.

“Is this a great alternative? It may not be the greatest, but it is an alternative,” Preston said. “We have to look for ways to get the budget under control.”

North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi said the board might as well approve drawing up the law and hold a hearing so there can be some debate on it.

A handful of supervisors voted against that, but enough voted in favor to pass it. The law could be ready to be introduced at next week’s regular full board meeting, then a hearing would likely be scheduled.

Franklin County approved a similar fee in fall 2011, and Palmer said the rest of Essex’s neighboring counties already charge it as well.

Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or