Lakewood sticks drivers with $20 car tab fee

Lakewood residents will have to pay an additional $20 to renew their vehicle tabs starting next March.

The Lakewood City Council, acting as the city’s Transportation Benefit District board, voted 6 to 1 Monday night to impose the annual fee. Councilwoman Mary Moss was the dissenting vote.

Council members had debated a car-tab fee for two years. But before agreeing to impose it, they asked city staff to scrub the budget for savings and craft a plan for how the new revenues would be used.

Two years ago that hadn’t been done, said Councilman Mike Brandstetter.

“While I think that some citizens would like us to have found every dime that is needed by looking elsewhere, we have really done the due diligence,” Brandstetter said.

Lakewood taxpayers will shoulder part of the burden for road maintenance, and so will the city, Councilman Jason Whalen said.

“We have come up with a plan that requires a bit of shared pain,” he said.

The annual fee will be collected from 2015 to 2020. It is expected to generate roughly $680,000 annually, for a total of just more than $4 million.

The money will be used to help pay for 19 projects totaling $15.6 million. The list includes the city’s chip seal program and energy-efficient LED streetlights, as well as specific road projects.

The council identified a combination of funding sources to pay for the projects, in addition to the revenue generated from the car tab fee. The sources include money from the the state gas tax and real estate excise tax.

The council also expects to look to Lakewood’s general fund for about $5 million. Details will be identified in the city’s 2015-2016 biennial budget proposal.

Officials say the city’s once-rural roads, paved by Pierce County before Lakewood incorporated in 1996, can’t hold up to the heavy urban wear and tear they get today. Spillover traffic from nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord increases the damage.

Before Monday night’s vote, council members explained their reasons for supporting the measure — or in Moss’s case, opposing it.

She said she’s spoken with people who are struggling financially and can’t afford the additional $20.

Asking for unanimity before the vote, Mayor Don Anderson said the city had little choice but to approve the fee.

“I personally view it as a last resort,” he said. “I think we need to look at this measure in context. We’ve been searching (for two years) for a solution to a nearly unsolvable problem.”