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  • 16 Sep 2014

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Hales, Novick: Pass residential street fee now, rest later

Mayor Charlie Hales and Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick want the City Council to approve a new transportation user fee on residential property next Thursday, then approved revised fee for businesses, other governments and non-profit organizations that is still be developed.

Hales and Novick made the announcement before the beginning of Thursday's first public hearing on the proposed fee. Dana Haynes, Hales' spokesman, says the revised business, government and nonprofit fee will be presented to the council within several weeks, at most.

It is unclear whether any other council members supports either the residential or considering it first. When the proposal was first unveiled, it set the residential fee at $11.56 a month. Commissioner Amanda Fritz said that was too high.

At the Thursday hearing, Hales introduced an amendment to start the fee at $8 in the first year, increasing it to $10 in the second year and $12 in the third year. However, he and the rest of the council accepted an amendment from Fritz setting the fee at $6 the first year, $9 the next second year and $12 the third year. She did not commit to approving it, however.

Commissioners Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman both said they believe it should be submitted to the voters for approval.

Novick explained his reason for delaying approval of the business, government and nonprofit fee Thursday morning. He said business complaints since the formal proposal was presented last week indicates confusion over the basis and development of that fee, which varies accruing to different types of business.

Novick said the was compiled in Institute of Traffic Engineers, but that there is disagreement over whether that is the best approach. For example, the Northwest Grocers Association believes the city's interpretation of the data overestimates the number of motor vehicle trips generated by grocery stores.

In his statement, Novick said, "Over the past week, however, reading numerous emails from small business owners, it became clear to me that many business owners were not part of that 2007 process, and have a lot of questions. Some are not sure which of the ITE categories they fit into; some question the fairness of applying the ITE model to their particular business. And it wasn’t just business owners; religious organizations and other property owners have concerns about the application of the ITE model.

"We still believe that the ITE manual is an appropriate basis for computing nonresidential fees. But again, other cities have developed variations on how to use the ITE. We think it is appropriate to take a few months to give business owners and other nonresidential parties who may not have been involved in the 2007 process [when former Mayor Sam Adams proposed a similar fee] to ask questions about and help shape our particular formulation.

"So, the mayor’s and my plan is to move forward with a vote on a residential fee, and set a deadline of Nov. 14, 2014, for the City Council to pass a nonresidential fee. Both fees would take effect as of July 1, 2015. If council does not pass a nonresidential fee by Nov. 14, the residential fee would be canceled."

In addition to business groups, Portland’s churches are also concerned about the new city transportation user fee. Novick met with representatives of the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon Wednesday to discuss the fee and its impact.

The new fee, which would come attached to city utility bills, pose two questions for churches, according to David Leslie, executive director of Ecumenical Ministries. As proposed, the fee would be calculated on a formula intended to estimate how much vehicle usage each property generates. So bigger buildings generally will get assessed more. Most businesses, according to the city, would pay less than $100 a month.

But many Portland churches, especially historical ones, have large buildings and small congregations with operating budgets that have shrunk with the size of their memberships. Some large churches could see street fee assessments of $3,000 a year or more, according to Leslie.

“For a lot of congregations that could be pretty spendy,” Leslie says.

Leslie says church leaders are also concerned about the impact of a new assessment on low-income residents, but that his organization has taken no formal position on the street fees proposal.

“These kinds of questions might warrant some more exploration,” Leslie says. “We might need to slow down the process.”

Reporter Peter Korn contributed to this story.