Bill for Concord vehicle registration fees drives GOP outcry, flier

  • A portion of the flier distributed by the Concord City Republican Committee decries Senate Bill 587. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, would lower 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 from 50,000 to 40,000. Courtesy of Concord City Republicans

Monitor staff
Wednesday, February 07, 2018

A bill that would give Concord the chance to add fees to vehicle registrations to help pay for its parking facilities has caught the attention of local Republicans.

The Concord City Republican Committee distributed a flier in the days ahead of a public hearing Wednesday on Senate Bill 587, which would lower the population threshold of municipalities allowed to tack a fee onto motor vehicle registrations to pay for the maintenance, operation and construction of parking facilities. The minimum population would drop from 50,000 to 40,000 under RSA 261:154, allowing Concord to join Manchester and Nashua as eligible cities.

If the bill passed, the Concord City Council would have the option of adopting the RSA and setting a fee rate that would depend on the newness and value of a vehicle. It would have to go before a public hearing before adoption.

That didn’t sit right with the Concord City Republican Committee, Chairman Andrew Georgevits said.

“I just registered my truck, and it cost me $989,” he said, referring to his 2017 Chevy Silverado. “To think an added fee) could go up to $150 ... we saw this as a call to action to say, ‘Look, we don’t need any more fees.’ ”

The flier says Concord has mismanaged its parking garages and is “scrambling for any and all means to raise new money.” The flier also states that “Democrat State Senator Dan Feltes (the bill’s main sponsor) wants to allow the city to jack-up Concord car registrations another $150.”

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.

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 for that same vehicle would be a maximum of $30.

That maximum rate isn’t set in stone – if the Concord City Council decided to adopt the RSA, it could set whatever rate it wants up to 5 mills. For example, Manchester – the only municipality that has adopted RSA 261:154, charges a flat rate of $2 per vehicle, regardless of age.

Georgevits said he was aware of how fee rates could be set, but said his committee was against any and all additional fees.

“The parking garages are nice places, but residents shouldn’t be subsidizing this. There’s got to be a better way,” he said. “It discourages people from buying new cars, and isn’t that the American dream: to be able to buy nice, new stuff?”

Some Republican members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee were also skeptical of the bill Wednesday morning.

“I’ve never met a governing body that won’t vote to raise fees in its own interest,” said Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, to Sen. Feltes, who testified on the bill. “I’d feel much more comfortable with this if this was put to the legislative body, to the voters.”

But Feltes noted that the “legislative body” in Concord is the city council, and that passing SB 587 would allow the council to hear public feedback before making a decision.

“We shouldn’t be afraid of debate, especially on the local level,” he said.

Sen. Andy Sanborn said the committee struggled with a similar version of the bill Feltes introduced last year, which would have dropped the population threshold under RSA 261:154 to zero, because they were wary of tacking on local fees to state fees.

“If we open the door to this, what’s going to be the next state charge that communities decide they want to piggyback off of?” Sanborn said.

Sanborn also questioned why the city would not have better planned for the eventual need to repair its parking garages.

The city’s parking fund has struggled to be self-sufficient for several years; without any changes, the parking fund would go bankrupt by the end of this fiscal year. The council approved a 28-page report from the city’s Parking Committee in December that put in motion increases to downtown parking rates, hours of enforcement and some parking violation ticket rates.

But Matt Walsh, the city’s deputy manager of development, said during the hearing that the city has a plan to invest $10 million over the next 10 years in its parking infrastructure, and that the parking garages were built in order to encourage economic development. Maintaining them is also critical to economic development, he said, and the money to do so has to come from somewhere. Walsh noted a previous recommendation to raise downtown parking rates to $1.75 an hour – which would have put more of the burden on downtown shoppers and employees – did not prove popular.

“Parking seems like a simplistic business to be in, but it’s not,” he said.

And Mayor Jim Bouley said calling Concord merely a city of around 40,000 didn’t paint an accurate picture of the use its parking facilities see during the workweek. He said the city’s population swells to around 90,000, which includes businesses and the Legislature, several of whom get use of the city’s parking facilities for free.

But at least one member of the public wasn’t sure the city’s residents could bear any more costs.

“So many people can’t afford to eat, or have health insurance,” Suzanne Tasker said. “I know it sounds absurd and that the fees could be low, but one more fee could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

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