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  • 27 Nov 2014

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Recall looms over street fee discussion

Business, nonprofit groups begin talks to smooth city proposal


Emotions are rising as Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick work to nudge their proposed street fee forward.

An opponent to the fee has filed petitions to recall Hales and Novick with the city auditor’s office. Ray Horton, a Southeast Portland resident, announced his intention to file the petitions last week on a Facebook page opposed to the fee: Stop Portland Street Fee.

“There’s a serious problem with the way the city government, particularly Hales and Novick, are approaching taking money from the people without listening to the people,” says Horton, who voted for both of the city officials.

Meanwhile, an important advisory committee appointed by Hales and Novick failed to immediately reach agreement on the terms — or even need — for the fee at its first meeting Monday afternoon.

Members of the committee, who are charged with considering how the fee should be applied to businesses, could not agree on whether the Portland Bureau of Transportation is wisely spending its existing budget, how much additional money is needed to maintain and improve city roads, and where it should come from.

Despite widespread public criticism of the proposed fee, Horton faces an uphill battle. He must collect nearly 35,000 valid signatures from registered Portland voters on each petition by early October. And not everyone who frequents the Facebook page — which has nearly 2,000 “likes” — agrees with the proposed recall, according to co-founder Ann Sanderson.

“Our page contains ideas from many different Portlanders who are passionately opposed to this tax and facilitates many conversations about how to achieve our goals,” says Sanderson, who owns the Odango! Hair Studio.

Novick responded during the weekend to news of the recall petitions, saying he and Hales are “morally compelled” to find more money to better maintain the city’s streets, and asked Portlanders to offer their ideas.

“We will keep on explaining as best we can how dire our transportation maintenance and safety needs are, and as time goes on I think more and more people, even those that are most unhappy, will start working with us to find solutions,” Novick said.

Devastating taxes

Hales and Novick hope to raise around $50 million a year for maintenance and safety projects from the fee. They want the revenue to be raised evenly between residential properties and non-residential properties, including businesses, governments, and nonprofit organizations, including churches. They want the City Council to vote on the proposal on Nov. 12.

Two new working groups appointed by Hales and Novick to consider alternatives to the non-residential fee held their first meetings this week. One is focused on the business fee. The other is considering the fee on governments, nonprofits and low-income families.

The two work groups were appointed after businesses and nonprofit organizations questioned the proposed method of determining the transportation user fees. The calculations were challenged as unfairly penalizing small businesses, among other things.

There is no working group dedicated exclusively to property owners who do not qualify for low-income discounts. Hales and Novick have reached agreement with City Commissioner Amanda Fritz on a fee that phases into a maximum of $12 a month during three years, and that has discounts for low-income households, including those living in multifamily buildings.

Sanderson says many other Portlanders will not be able to afford the residential fee, however.

“There are a lot of Portlanders who won’t qualify for a low-income discount whose budgets are tight enough to make this additional tax devastating,” says Sanderson.

Work group issues

The business work group held its first meeting Monday afternoon. It includes representatives of such business organizations as Associated General Contractors; the Building Owners and Managers Association, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association; the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association; the Portland Business Alliance; the Working Waterfront Coalition; and Venture Portland, which represents neighborhood business districts. Sanderson also serves on it.

Members could not agree on many of the basic issues at the meeting, however. Downtown developer Greg Goodman wanted more information on how PBOT spends its existing resources. Benjamin Chessar of the Commercial Real Estate Development Association thought more than a $50 million a year might actually be needed. Sanderson thought the figure might be too high, however.

PBOT Director Leah Treat promised to provide additional information before the next meeting.

The other work group was scheduled to meet this week. Its members represent such nonprofits as: AARP; Central City Concern; the Community Alliance of Tenants; the Coalition of Communities of Color; Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon; Elders in Action; the Latino Network; and the Oregon Food Bank. It also includes schools in the area.

KOIN News 6 contributed to this story.