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Residential street fee vote set for Wednesday

The City Council is scheduled to vote on three measures related to the controversial street fee on Wednesday.

One measure would impose the fee — officially called the Transportation User Fee — on households. Another would require the council to approve a similar fee for businesses, governments and nonprofit organizations by Nov. 13. The third would place a measure on the Nov. 4 General Election ballot requiring that the funds raised through the fee be spent on transportation-related project.

The fee proposal was developed by Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick, who is in charge of the Portland Bureau of Transportation. The council held the first public hearing on it last Thursday. At that time, Commissioner Amanda Fritz indicating she was willing to join with Hales and Novick to pass it. Commissioners Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman said it should be referred to the ballot for voter approval.

Most of the people who testified at the hearing testified against the fee. They included residents and small business owners who said they could not afford it. Some business organization said they could support the fee, however, if they thought it was fair and the money would be wisely spent.

A number of supporters also testified. They mostly represented government agencies, including TriMet and the Portland Police Bureau, and advocacy organizations, including the Portland Pedestrian Advisory Committee and OPAL, which favors increasing mass transit opportunities for low-income residents, among other things.

Many of those who testified said the public should vote on the fee. Hales and Novick are opposed to referring the fee to voters, however. They say the money is needed to better maintain Portland streets and fund safety projects, such as more sidewalks in outer East Portland.

The residential fee is proposed to start at $6 a month in the first year, increase to $9 a month in the second year, and increase to $12 a month in the third and following years. It includes discounts for low-income households.

That fee schedule replaces the original proposal of $11.56 per month, which also included low-income discounts. The new schedule was proposed by Fritz.

The council split the residential fee from the other fees at last Thursday's hearing. Novick said he supported the split after hearing concerns from small businesses. He introduced the ordinance to give the council until Nov. 14 to negotiate a new fee for businesses, governments and nonprofit organizations, including schools and churches. According to the ordinance, the residential fee will be repealed if the other fees are not approved by the deadline.

Hales says the measure proposed for the General Election is intended to assume that future councils continue to spend the money raised by the fee on transportation projects. It says a majority of the funds must be spent on maintenance and safety projects. Other potential uses include bicycle and mass transit projects.

It is unclear how much the residential fee will raise. All of the fee were originally estimated to raise between $40 million and $50 million a year.

Deliberations on the three items are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. on June 4.