Public packs City Hall for hearing on street fee proposal

Public packs City Hall for hearing on street fee proposal »Play Video
Portlanders packed City Hall Thursday, May 29, 2014 during a hearing on a proposed street fee.

PORTLAND, Ore. – People packed into the Council Chambers at Portland City Hall Thursday, many of whom were angry about the proposed street fee.

The fee could cost homeowners up to $144 a year. That's a change from the original proposal.  Commissioner Amanda Fritz put up an amendment to the residential fees that would take them from $11.56 per month to an incremental scale. Homeowners would pay $6 per month in year one, $9 per month in year two, and $12 per month in year three. Commissioners will vote on this plan next Wednesday.

On Wednesday they decided to put off the vote for the business fees for a couple of months so that its the proposal can be reworked to make it more fair. Though businesses are still expected to pay much more than residents.

Council would need to pass the fees for both homeowners and businesses by November 14 or both fees will be canceled, Novick said Thursday.

Thursday’s hearing was the last for Portlanders to tell city commissioners how they feel before a next week's council vote.

John Shetterly has lived in Portland for 40 years and came to City Hall for the first time Thursday.

“All they can think about is, 'We need more money, we need more money,'” said Shetterly. “For the common, working tax person, if you don't have money, you can't go to your boss and say, 'I need more money – I’m not going to make my bills this month.' You have to scrimp, cut back, do what you have to do to make your bills and live.”

Still, Shetterly said he would consider paying a fee to improve roads, but he doesn't want council to pass it without a public vote.

"I think people in Portland are responsible, and if worded properly, I think it would pass," Shetterly said. "I don’t like the way they’re implementing this."

Mayor Charlie Hales feels putting the issue to a vote is essentially doing nothing because people will vote it down.

"We pay our phone bill, we pay our electric bill, we pay our water and sewer bill," Mayor Hales told the crowd. "Unfortunately, we have to start paying our street bill."

He said nearly half of Portland's streets are in "poor" or "very poor" condition.

Commissioner Steve Novick told the crowd at the start of the public hearing that there is no other choice.

"There is no popular way to solve the problem, so the elected officials need to bite the bullet," Novick said.

After the public comment portion of the hearing, Novick said, “It was our intent to conclude voting on this proposal in time that if somebody did gather signatures and it was referred, it would appear on the November 2014 ballot as opposed to a low turn out ballot. And that’s our intention.”

Commissioners Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman are against passing the fee without a public vote.

"It has a significant impact to low income homeowners and businesses, and I think we need to be very cautious about adding more taxes and fees right now," Fish told KATU before the hearing. "Ultimately, we should trust voters."

Commissioner Fritz, told KATU's Hillary Lake on Thursday night after the hearing that she's against sending the issue to the public for a vote because it's so confusing. However, she also said she's undecided about offering up an additional amendment before next week's vote.

If the proposal passes, homeowners and businesses would start paying in July of 2015. The fee is expected to raise $50 million dollars, which would be applied to maintenance and safety of the city's roads.

Read the street fee city ordinance (pdf)

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