There's still that unpopular leaf-removal fee that stirred up homeowners in the fall
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Mayor Adams’ said many of his proposed budget decisions are intended to help those hurt by the recession.

Portland Mayor Sam Adams' proposed budget unveiled Tuesday morning includes one small item that could stir citywide debate nestled among the major decisions: the leaf-removal fee.

The mayor told reporters that he planned to continue the annual leaf-removal fee started last year in city neighborhoods with the most trees.

The fee ranges from $16 to $30, depending on the size of the property and whether it is a home or a business. The fee is intended to cover the city's cost of collecting and disposing of leaves that fall onto sidewalks and streets, creating dangerous walking and driving conditions.

• Click here to read highlights of Mayor Sam Adams' proposed budget.

Although the city had picked up the leaves in the past without charge, Adams persuaded the council to approve the fee last year to help deal with recession-caused budget problems.

Property owners can opt out of the fee by cleaning up their leaves, but some Portlanders complained loudly about it, prompting Adams to say he would reconsider it. A city poll found that residents were evenly split on the issue, with 47 percent favoring the fee, 48 percent opposed and the rest undecided.

Adam decided to continue the fee this year, with the opt-out provision.

'The best fee is the one someone else pays,' Adams said at the press conference, challenging the reporters who covered it to include details of the opt-out provisions in their stories. 'No one has to pay it if they don't want to.'

As part of his budget plan, Adams also reduced by 1 percent the proposed water and sewer rate increases. He proposed a combined increase of 7.8 percent, $130 million less than requested by the Water Bureau and the Bureau of Environmental Service, which operates the sewer system and administers stormwater management programs.

A detailed budget proposal will be released on May 17. It will call for $408 million in discretionary general fund spending.

Although the overall budget totals $3.4 billion, the council has the most discretion over the general fund portion.

The city's fiscal year is from July 1 to June 30, 2012.

Investing in the future

Adams said many of his decisions are intended to help those hurt by the recession. Among other things, he will ask the council to spent $1.7 million to continue emergency shelter services, $1.4 million to continue rent assistance, nearly $500,000 for housing access services, $250,000 to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, and $390,000 to support new programming at the Bud Clark Commons, the multi-use housing and service building formerly called the Regional Access Center scheduled to open soon near Union Station.

Adams also said some decisions are intended to create jobs. Among other things, he will ask the council to increase general fund dollar going to the Portland Development Commission's economic development programs by 67 percent.

'Our boom-bust economy, our decades-long achievement gap, the root causes of crime, and the lack of basic equity for all Portlanders - all are issues we must address to achieve permanent resilience,' Adams said.

Although other cities are struggling with their budgets because of recession-caused shortfalls, Adams budget does not touch the city's reserves but adds $10 million to the rainy day fund that can be used if economy does not improve.

'While other cities are raising taxes, laying off key public safety employees, cutting essential services or reaching into their reserves just to get by, the city of Portland is in strong financial shape,' Adams said. 'My proposed budget makes investments in our future today.'

City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade praised Adams at the press conference for adding to the city's rainy day funds.

'That's music to an auditor's ears,' Griffin-Valade said.

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