Since 1997, RSA 261:153:VI has enabled communities across New Hampshire to vote for an optional vehicle registration fee, up to $5 per vehicle, to be deposited into a municipal transportation improvement fund. This fund is then used to pay for local transportation projects. This enabling legislation lets communities decide whether or not to impose such a fee, how much to charge, and how they will use the fund. It is LOCAL financing for LOCAL transportation improvements. HB121 is a bill that simply changes the cap from $5 to $10.
Some cities, such as Dover, use the fee to create a pool of matching funds that they can use to leverage federal funding opportunities that come their way. Others, like Rochester, Derry and Manchester, use it to offset road maintenance costs. Hollis, Exeter, and Lebanon use the fee to support bus service for their citizens, realizing that our state is aging, and the number of people who need such service is growing.
But five dollars doesn’t go as far as it did in 1997. The cost of asphalt has increased fivefold since Paragraph VI was added to the law. Fuel is twice what it was in the nineties. That’s why communities are asking for the cap to be raised from $5 to $10.
This fee is completely in the hands of the local voters at town meeting and city council. If the law is changed to increase the cap to $10, municipalities must still ask their citizens for approval to raise the fee beyond its current level, whether that is the $5 charged by Manchester, or the $1 charged by Hollis.
Changing the cap on this optional fee from $5 to $10 will enhance the ability of communities to make local decisions about their future, giving them more control and flexibility in their transportation investments.