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Transportation fee tops busy City Council agenda

The City Council agenda is jam packed with major issues this week.

The most controversial is a Thursday hearing on a new Transportation Utility Fee proposed by Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick. It would impose various monthly fees for maintenance, safety, bicycle, mass transit, and other transportation-related projects on all residents, businesses, governmental agencies and non-profit organization in the city.

The proposal, as written, is facing opposition from within the business community.

Hales and Novick want the council to approve the fee structure without submitting it to Portland voters for approval. However, Hales and Novick also want the council place a measure restricting the proceeds from the fee to transportation-related projects on the November 2014 General Election ballot.

The residential fee would be $11.56 a month with discounts for low-income households. The other fees would be based on how many vehicle trips the businesses, government agencies and non-profit organization are estimated to generate.

The fee is estimated to raise between $40 million and $50 million a year.

The Northwest Grocers Association opposes the current fee proposal because it does not believe the trip-generation estimates are accurate. The organization believes the city's calculations overestimate the number of trips generated by grocery stores, meaning they would pay more than their fair share.

NGWA President Joe Gilliam says his organization will support the proposal if the projects to be funded are narrowed to street maintenance and the fee is fairly assessed against residents and businesses. If not, Gilliam says the NWGA is prepared to place the fee proposal on the ballot, either through a referendum petition or an initiative drive.

Other business organizations have yet to take a stand on the proposal. Hales and Novick want the council to approve the fee and ballot measure on June 4, allowing little time for compromise.

The other major items are on the council's Wednesday agenda. They incude:

• Approval of the city budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.

• Approval of the Portland Development Commission budget for the next fiscal year.

• Approval of water, sewer and stormwater management rate increases averaging around 5 percent.

• Approval of monthly solid waste collection rates that will remain the same or be slightly lower for approximately 80 percent of customers and increase slightly for the 18 percent of customers with every-other-week 32-gallon can service.

• Approval of an ordinance allowing Google Fiber to install equipment structures called "Network Huts" in the public right-of-way as part of its potential ultra-high speed broadband system in Portland.