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Street fee on fast track, fate uncertain

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO JONATHAN HOUSE - Mayor Charlie Hales and Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick listen during a press conference announcing a proposed Transportation User Fee for all Portland residences, businesses, governments and nonprofit organizations. Mayor Charlie Hales will ask the City Council to approve a new utility fee to pay for road maintenance and safety improvements next Thursday.

The council could vote on the fee — which would be assessed against residents, businesses, governments and nonprofit organizations — as soon as June 4.

It is not clear whether a majority of the council will support it, however.

Both Hales and Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick support the Transportation User Fee, which has also been called a Street Fee or Road Fee. Hales and Novick have developed it together and presented their proposal to residents, business owners and other governments within the city limits at numerous forums.

When asked who else on the council supports the fee at a Thursday morning press conference on it, Hales said he expects Commissioner Amanda Fritz will vote for it.

But when contacted by the Portland Tribune a short time later, Fritz said she has not yet made up her mind.

"I agree the city has transportation needs and I'm hopeful we can come up with a package that meets them, but I am not going to make a decision before the public hearing," Fritz said.

Commissioners Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman both said they believe the proposed fee should be referred to voters during their re-election campaign earlier this year.

Hales and Novick have ruled out asking voters to approve the fee, saying it is time for the council to show leadership after many years of deteriorating roads. At the press conference, Hales said 28 other Oregon cities have adopted such fees without referring them to voters.

"If the voters are mad enough, Charlie and I are up for re-election in 2016 and they can vote us out," Novick said at the press conference.

Fritz has already said she does not intended to run for re-election in two years, when her current term expires.

Hales and Novick want to refer a charter amendment to the voters this November that would dedicate the fee to transportation projects, however.

The proposal to be considered by the council on May 29 would impose a monthly fee of $11.56 for single-family households. Discounts would be provided to low-income households and households in multi-family buildings, such as apartments.

Fritz thinks the $11.56 amount is too high, but she is not yet proposing a lower figure.

Businesses and governments would pay monthly fees based on the estimated amount of motor vehicle trips they generate. An online calculator is available at OurStreetsPDX.com to help them estimate their fees.

The board of the Portland Business Alliance has not yet taken a stand on the proposal.