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I-Team: Controversial vehicle registration fee set to expire

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — A controversial vehicle registration fee in Luzerne County will expire at the end of the year. The $5 per-vehicle fee was supposed to be used for road and bridge repairs.

But was it used for that?

One of the biggest concerns and questions Eyewitness News heard over and over again from taxpayers since this fee was passed in 2018 was this “I don’t mind paying the $5 fee, if it is used for what they say it will be used for.”

So we followed the money.

“I really didn’t know what it was going to be used for that I needed to pay an extra $5. Now that it’s being used for things like this, it’s well worth it for the 5 dollar fee,” said Mark Holvey from Hanover Township.

Holvey lives just up the road from the West Liberty Bridge in Hanover Township. It was closed late last year for much needed and long awaited repairs.

The project will cost $700,000 — money that came from a five dollar vehicle registration fee approved by county council in 2018.

The fee would be taken out by PennDOT when a person registers their vehicle each year.

“What we do with that money was Luzerne County took that money and put it on four separate bridges and roads in Luzerne County. This is funding wouldn’t have gotten to. We wouldn’t be able to fix these bridge before now moving forward,” said Dave Pedri, Luzerne County manager.

Council approved the $5 vehicle registration fee mainly because PennDOT was offering a match of up to $2 million. That state match ends this year, so Luzerne County will end its fee at the same time.

“So the state matched $2 million. Luzerne county taxpayers $2 million and the state paid $2 million. That’s two million dollars we never would have had here in Luzerne County,” said Pedri.

Elmwood Road in the Crestwood Industrial Park was also repaved and repaired as part of the vehicle registration fee. People who work and live near here say the road was a disaster.

There is a bit of a financial snafu however with folks who registered their vehicles with a two year option.

“So people who registered for two years into 2022. We’re not thrilled with the PennDOT system. That being said we are going to make sure everybody gets their five dollar fee back in 2022,” said Pedri.

County council member Harry Haas says he’s confident people will get their money refunded sooner than later.

“We’re hoping that PennDOT will act in good faith and return that money back to Luzerne County so we can give it back to ratepayers.”

Meanwhile back in Hanover Township, when asked, “Are you surprised the money was actually used for what it’s supposed to be used for?”

Holvey responded, “Not really. In this day and age they all basically have to do what they say they are going to do because of guys like you. We hope they do it and it looked like they did. I hope they keep going like that.”

Eyewitness News reached out to PennDOT regarding that refund. A spokesperson emailed back and said the county is responsible for refunding that money. PennDOT will provide the county with the names of the people who are owed a refund.

Overall, there are five projects funded by this vehicle registration fee. All of them are either underway or already completed.

Do you have a news tip? Reach out to the Eyewitness News I-Team online or call the I-Team hotline at 570-706-7428.

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