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Fee burdens business owners

MY VIEW

Portland city Commissioner Sam Adams has indicated that he intends to impose a new street maintenance fee this month to pay for transportation projects.

Although Adams projects the new fee will cost city residents $464 million over the next 15 years, he does not intend to submit the fee proposal to a public vote.

While the condition of our streets is important, city leaders must keep in mind what Portlanders can afford.

The fee Adams proposes would cost the average Portland business $996 per year. A new $996 fee might not seem like much to a large downtown law firm, but for a small, locally owned convenience store a new $996 fee may not be affordable.

Yet under Adams' proposed fee structure, a corporate law firm with 150 attorneys only will pay $45 per month, while a small neighborhood store will be required to pay the city approximately $100 per month.

Small businesses have reason to be concerned about the new fee.

City residents also have reason to be concerned. Although Adams' fee proposal is imposed on both residents and businesses, the tax imposed on businesses ultimately will be passed through to customers.

For example, the tax imposed on your local supermarket will be passed through to consumers in the form of higher grocery costs.

The other aspect of the fee that is of equal concern to individuals and businesses alike is the fact that, as proposed, it would increase each year with the consumer price index.

A fee that automatically increases each year sets a dangerous precedent. This is especially true when there is no rational relationship between consumer price index increases and the city's transportation needs.

Concerns such as the above have led many to the conclusion that Adams needs to rethink his proposal. Portlanders deserve a chance to vote on this costly new fee.

The city currently has a $34 million surplus in its 2008-09 budget and receives state and federal gas tax funds to pay for transportation projects.

In light of this, it appears that Adams should spend more time considering what city residents can really afford before imposing a fee that will cost Portlanders $464 million over the next 15 years.

Lila Leathers owns Leathers Fuel, which owns and operates a number of retail gasoline stations.