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Phoenix voters pass diesel-tax proposal

PHOENIX — Voters Tuesday approved a measure that will impose a two-cent-per-gallon tax on diesel fuel sold in the city. The tax will help pay for maintenance of roads that get wear and tear from big-rig trucks near the Petro Stopping Center.

A total of 564 voters, 70 percent of those who cast ballots in the single-issue special election, voted for the tax, while 237, or 30 percent, opposed it in the preliminary vote count. Turnout was 31 percent of 2,583 registered voters in the city, according to the Jackson County Elections Office.

“I think we are putting the tax where the users are not only going to benefit from street repairs but also on the users that cause the damage,” said Mayor Jeff Bellah.

Federal transportation studies show that one big rig produces wear equivalent to 9,600 cars, Bellah said. Funds raised by the tax will be restricted to construction, maintenance and improvement of city streets.

“That’s too bad for that truck stop there,” said Mike Card, president of Medford’s Combined Trucking,

Combined Trucking operates 500 trucks and uses a fuel program that automatically direct drivers to the cheapest fuel stations in each region, said Card. The firm buys from the Petro chain, including Phoenix, he said.

“As soon as the two cents is input into the formula for diesel fuel costs, most truckers will make a decision not to fuel there if they are that sophisticated,” Card said

Engineering estimates project that a half-million dollars would be needed over the next 15 years to maintain the roads used by trucks around the Petro station at the Interstate 5, Exit 24 interchange. Those roads include South Phoenix Road and Furry Drive. Phoenix will take on added maintenance in the area when the rebuild of the interchange is completed next year.

Bellah said he hopes the city realizes $50,000 per year from the tax, which would allow for repaving of the affected roads over 10 years. Petro would not divulge sales figures to the city.

“I can certainly understand the desire of the city to get them to pay for its roads. Salem and Washington, D.C., haven’t done enough to get money for road projects,” said Card. “A patchwork (of taxes) creates a problem for overarching consistency for highways.”

Campaigning was low key, with city officials explaining the need to the public. “I didn’t see anything from the trucking industry,” said Bellah

Phoenix’s levy is unique in Oregon as it is limited to diesel fuel. Twenty other cities levy taxes on both gas and diesel. Under Oregon law, cities, counties and other local governments may tax vehicle fuels if voters living in the jurisdiction approve.

The average rate of fuel taxes by Oregon cities was 3 cents per gallon, according to a League of Oregon Cities 2014 survey. Those taxes generate $390,797 annually on average per city, with a high of $2.9 million for Eugene.

Phoenix will be the only Rogue Valley jurisdiction with a local fuel tax. The tax will go into effect in 30 days. Besides Petro, there are two other gas stations in town.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.