Downtown: Legislation could increase your motor vehicle registration fees

Monitor staff
Monday, January 15, 2018

A pending piece of legislation would open up potentially thousands of dollars for Concord to use to pay for its parking facilities, should it pass muster in the Legislature and, later, the city council.

At this point, the law is still in its infancy – it doesn’t even have a formal bill number.

But for those who were around for the 2017 legislative session, Legislative Service Request 2792 might seem familiar. That’s because Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, introduced Senate Bill 174, which, among other things, would have lowered the population threshold of municipalities allowed to tack on a fee to motor vehicle registrations to pay for the maintenance, operation and construction of parking facilities. Under RSA 261:154, the required population would drop the minimum population from the current 50,000 to zero – a number that certainly includes Concord, but that would also allow any municipality in the state to institute fees.

The city council voted in December 2016 to have the city’s administration work with Feltes to create the bill that would amend the law, according to city council minutes. But the bill was short-lived, dying in the Public and Municipal Affairs Committee last year.

This new bill is a lot less dramatic. It simply lowers the population threshold of municipalities allowed to collect fees from 50,000 to 40,000, according to its text. Currently, only Nashua and Manchester have a big enough population to take advantage of the RSA. But it’s low enough to open the door for Concord to adopt the RSA – the city had a population of 42,537 in 2015 U.S. Census Bureau data.

It’s important to note that the passage of the bill would not mean that Concord automatically adopts the RSA; that would require a public hearing and a vote from the city council, according to Matt Walsh. the city’s deputy manager.

But it’s possible there is already support on the council for adopting RSA; the bill was tucked into the 28-page report on strategic parking initiatives the council approved in December, the result of years of study by the city’s Parking Committee on how to make the parking fund self-sufficient.

By accepting that report, councilors put in place some of the first major changes recommended by the parking committee, including increases to downtown parking rates, hours of enforcement and some parking violation ticket rates. Other aspects, like whether to increase the number of meters downtown, will have to be discussed during budget season.

The push to open new revenue streams for the parking fund comes as city facilities face some serious expenses.

The School Street parking garage is in the midst of a 2½-year renovation, the first time the garage has seen any serious work since in more than three decades. That facelift, which will include extensive repairs, updated signage, a new elevator, enclosed stair towers and more, isn’t cheap – it’s projected to cost $5.2 million.

Communities that adopt RSA 261:154 make money through the statute by using a graded “millage rate” for the motor vehicle registration fees based upon model year, Walsh wrote in an email.

The maximum millage rate for a current model year vehicle is 5 mills, or $5 per $1,000 in value of the maker’s list price for the vehicle. The millage rate decreases by 1 mill, or $1 per $1,000, for every year the car ages, until it reaches 1 mill, or four years of age.

For the owner of a current model year vehicle with a $30,000 MSRP, this would mean Concord could potentially add on a $150 fee to your registration fees in the first year; that number would decrease until the vehicle aged four years, at which point the RSA 261:154-related fee would be $30.

If that $150 price tag makes your heart jump, it’s important to note that’s the maximum amount the city could charge under the statute, not a mandated amount – municipalities can charge pretty much whatever they want, as long as it doesn’t exceed the 5-mill rate.

Should Feltes’s bill pass the legislation, Concord would have to decide how to structure its millage rates.

For example, Manchester, the only municipality in the state that uses the statute, has been charging a flat rate of $2 per vehicle, regardless of its age. According to the Queen City’s tax collector, Brenda Masewic, the city collected $230,238 in revenue during the 2017 fiscal year.

Adopting the RSA could net the Concord anywhere from thousands to over a million dollars for its parking facilities, Walsh said.

Concord had 44,878 motor vehicles registered in December 2016 with a combined value of around $708 million. If Concord followed Manchester’s example with a fee of $2 per vehicle, it would equal $89,756 per year, but if the city pursued the maximum millage rates provided by the statute, it could raise about $1.5 million, according to an estimate from Walsh.

Feltes said the bill will probably see a public hearing near the end of the month. It is co-sponsored by Concord City Councilor and state Rep. Steve Shurtleff, but it also has the support of Manchester state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro and Nashua state Sen. Bette Lasky.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)