GRESHAM, Ore. – The mayor of Gresham said the city is a “different place” than when he grew up there and is calling for a fee on utilities to better fund existing emergency services.
In a letter sent to Gresham residents, which included a KATU News producer, Mayor Shane Bemis said the proposed fee, which would cost each business and household – including renters - $7.50 per month, would only be used to help pay for current emergency services and parks.
Bemis said the fee would ensure that when people call 9-1-1, police and fire crews can respond quickly.
“We are facing a chasm between the resources we have and the basic services that our households require, like police, emergency medical response, fire protection and parks,” Bemis wrote.
Without the added funding, Bemis claims services could be brought down to "unacceptable and unsafe levels." Over 90 percent of the revenue would go to police and fire services, with the rest targeted at parks, Bemis said. The fees would go into the city’s general fund.
- Read the entire letter from Mayor Bemis (PDF)
Bemis said that Gresham residents pay the least of Oregon’s 10 largest cities for emergency services, and even if the new fee is approved, they would still be paying the least.
Gresham is now the fourth-largest city in Oregon behind Portland, Salem and Eugene, with a population of 106,000 or more. Bemis said there were 55,000 residents when he moved to Gresham at age 15.
Bemis said in his letter that he never saw gang members while he was growing up and attending Gresham High School. But now, he said police say there are members of 135 known gangs in the city.
“To put it simply, along with our big-city stature comes a host of big-city challenges, and I believe Gresham has reached a defining moment” he said in the letter.
Bemis also said the city has saved money since 2008 by cutting 70 full-time positions.
Right now, a fixed property tax funds parks, police and fire, and that property tax rate was capped by the state in the 1990s before Gresham's population ballooned. The city has lobbied for changes in state property tax laws to allow the city to bring in more property tax revenue.
Many residents said they're not excited about a bigger bill from the city.
"The economy is bad right now as it is," said Marrita Trujillo. "That's just going to make it even harder for those of us who just get by on paying on bills."
But others said they supported such a fee.
"I didn't think it was such a bad idea. I don't think 7.50 is that much," said Patricia Murphy. "You think about people – they buy all sorts of things through the month. It doesn't seem like that much."
She said it's worth it if it keeps her home safe.
The public is invited to comment on the proposal beginning Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Gresham’s City Hall, located at 1333 NW Eastman Parkway.
The City Council hasn't set a date for a vote on the issue. It is going to wait until after the town hall meetings to set a vote sometime later this year.
KATU News reporter Emily Sinovic contributed to this report.