FERNDALE - City leaders have flirted with a gas tax at least six times since a 1991 state law enabled cities on the U.S.-Canada border to collect up to one penny per gallon of fuel for road repairs.
For the second time in 20 years, voters in the city will decide whether to impose the tax. Council voted 4-3 on Monday, May 6, to put the measure on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Keith Olson led the charge on the council for giving the voters a chance to approve the tax.
"This gas tax, unlike a property tax increase, will be paid by everyone who buys gas within the city limits of Ferndale. That will include ... thousands of Canadian drivers," Olson said.
Council member Paul Ingram agreed.
"The Canadians are going to pay the bulk of it, from what I've seen," he said.
Olson and Ingram joined Cathy Watson and Lloyd Zimmerman in passing the ballot resolution, despite resistance from people in the gas and oil business who spoke at Monday's meeting.
Bob Bell, who owns Ferndale Mini Market, said he could not pass the extra one-cent cost to his customers. His store has lost 40 or 50 percent of its fuel sales over the past 10 years, he said.
"Corporate gas stations continue to hammer us," Bell said, mentioning Costco and Pilot by name. "We fight for every penny. We get that price as low as we can get it."
Council members Jon Mutchler and Mel Hansen, who voted against the resolution, were convinced by Bell and other station owners that the tax would pinch their profits.
"They have told us they're the ones who are going to eat this thing, and I don't have a reason to believe they won't," Mutchler said.
Council considered the gas tax measure in 2006, 2007, 2011 and November 2012, when it decided to put off the discussion until this year. Council came close to putting the tax on the ballot in 2011. The vote was 3-3, and Mayor Gary Jensen broke the tie with a "no" vote.
The only other time the tax made the ballot, in 1993, it failed with 59.6 percent of voters rejecting it.
City officials estimate they would collect at least $50,000 a year with the tax. The city already raises about $300,000 annually for road repairs from a voter-approved sales tax that went into effect in July 2012.
A 2010 survey of needed roadwork in Ferndale gave a total estimated cost of $15.6 million.