The Pendleton City Council voted unanimously for a 4-cent-a-gallon fuel tax to help pay for the Airport/Barnhart Road project.

More than a hundred people packed the city hall council chambers tonight in anticipation of the vote, with the wide majority in support of the tax. All eight city council members participated in the meeting, with Councilwoman Cheryl Marier joining via a phone because the winter weather kept her from returning to Pendleton.

Mayor Phillip Houk opened the floor to testimony on the fuel tax proposal, which would raise about $500,000 a year. The city would use the tax revenue to pay off a $3.6 million loan from the Oregon Department of Transportation to pay for completing the road from Exit 202 on Interstate 84 to the city's industrial lands on Airport Hill.

Seventeen people spoke in favor of the tax, while six spoke against it.

Those who wanted the tax said it would help push Pendleton's economic growth and create a better future. Opponents said the tax will push drivers to buy fuel at nearby communities, and they wanted more assurance building the road would bring business and industry.

At the end of almost two hours of testimony, Councilman Steve Taylor made the motion to vote on the fuel tax ordinance, and Councilman John Brenne seconded.

Perhaps surprisingly, Councilwoman Cheryl Beck supported the tax, after stating her constituents in Ward 1 wanted the tax to go to a vote of the people. Beck said she changed her mind because in the long run the fuel tax will save her constituents money.

Beck lost a reelection bid this year to Becky Marks. Likewise, Councilwoman Majorie Ibrug was voting in her last council meeting, as she lost to Branstetter.

Other council members said the tax was about fueling Pendleton's economic future. Marier said she initially opposed the tax, but Pendleton needs to move forward.

With the vote 8-0 for the tax, the council received a round of applause from many in attendance.

For a fuller story, see Wednesday's edition of the East Oregonian.

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