PORTLAND, Ore. – The City Council vote on the controversial Portland street fee has been delayed until November, Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick said Tuesday.
The proposed fee to improve roads would cost homeowners up to $144 a year. The council was scheduled to vote on the fee Wednesday.
Businesses were expected to pay much more than residents under the original proposal. Last week, commissioners decided to put off the vote for the business fees for a couple of months so that the proposal could be reworked.
“We have not taken care of our largest asset: our streets. We have to change that,” Mayor Hales said in a statement Tuesday. “Postponing the Council vote will give people time to weigh in on whether this is the best solution to this dire need, and to consider changes to make it work better.”
Hales and Novick said the change was made because they're hearing people are beginning to pay attention to the proposed fees, and they want to give more time for more feedback. They also want to rework how much low-income families will be charged and how they will be assessed the fee.
They said those were the two main concerns they took away from last week's public hearing.
During that hearing last Thursday, people packed into the Council Chambers at Portland City Hall, many of whom were angry about the proposed street fee.
The fee, scheduled to go into effect for homeowners and businesses in July of 2015, was expected to raise $50 million dollars. The money would be applied to maintenance and safety of the city's roads.
"With regard to the impact on low income households, I am hopeful that we will be able to come up with a strategy that addresses not only the impact of this fee but the impact of water and sewer fees," Novick said in a blog post published Tuesday on his website.
Novick suggested providing rebates on water, sewer and transportation fees for low-income residents. He said the Department of Revenue is checking on the possibility of that idea.
He also said it may be worth looking at other options like a local sales tax, a local income tax or an increase in the business profits tax to pay for road maintenance.
On Tuesday, Novick admitted that Commissioner Amanda Fritz asked him over the weekend to wait. Fritz's vote will likely make the difference when it comes to whether City Council can pass the new street fee without giving it to voters.
Over the next five months, two work groups will be evaluating the options. Commissioners are also expected to schedule more public hearings.
KATU's Erica Nochlin contributed to this report.
The following is the full statement from the Mayor's Office:
The proposal by Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick to launch a street fee in 2015 remains on schedule. However, the council vote on how to structure the fee will be pushed back until November.
“We have not taken care of our largest asset: our streets. We have to change that,” Mayor Hales said. “We’ve been talking about this for 13 years, and we held several town halls this winter and spring to hear from people. Despite that, many constituents still haven’t been heard yet. We get that. Postponing the Council vote will give people time to weigh in on whether this is the best solution to this dire need, and to consider changes to make it work better.”
”The last street free proposal in 2008 was derailed by a lobbyist filing a referendum petition,” said Commissioner Novick. “This one has been temporarily delayed due to concerns voiced by small business owners and low-income people and advocates. We are in a hurry to get to work, but if we’re going to be delayed, it’s for the right reasons.”
The City Council on Wednesday will still vote on referring a charter change that would lock in the use of any street fee for transportation purposes. “Voters need to be assured that we will spend this money the way we say we will,” Hales said. “A charter change will ensure that we stay true to that commitment, administration after administration.”
However, the council vote on both the residential fee, and the non-residential fee, will be pushed back to November..
Further public forums will be scheduled to hear from residents and the business community.
And two work groups will be formed. Their charges: 2
● To analyze city policy regarding low-income residents and fees. The work group will look at the street fee as well as fees for other city utilities, including water and sewer, to see how well low-income residents are being served and how widely discounts can be applied.
● To further engage with small business, nonprofit and government partners on design and implementation of the fee.
“Think of this as a track race,” Hales said. “We haven’t moved the finish line, which is July 2015. But we’re moving the starting blocks. We heard from the community: We are taking our time to hear a more robust debate on the details of this fee. But we have not wavered in our resolve. It is our intention to finally address our deteriorating streets.”