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Council open to sales and business taxes for streets

The City Council opened the door Wednesday to a sales tax or tax on business profits — or both — to help fund transportation projects.

The council also delayed until next week its vote on a measure that would restrict funds raised by a new street fee or other new transportation revenue source. The proposed measure, which would appear on the Nov. 4 ballot, was amended to dedicate 80 percent of the new transportation revenue to maintenance and safety projects. Previously, the measure called for a majority of the money to be dedicated to maintenance and safety.

The council already had delayed a vote scheduled for today (Wednesday, June 4) on a new residential street fee. The vote on the residential fee was postponed until Nov. 12, when the fee or the other new revenue resources will be considered for businesses, governments and nonprofit organizations, including schools and churches.

Although the original proposals called for a Transportation User Fee, City Commissioner Steve Novick proposed allowing an advisory committee working on the proposal to consider other revenue sources, including a sales tax or tax on business profits.

The rest of the council accepted the idea and included it in a resolution requiring the council to consider all of the revenue sources by Nov. 12. The resolution passed, with only Commissioner Dan Saltzman voting no.

The last-minute changes were just the latest in a series of changes to the proposed street fee, which was originally scheduled to be adopted in its entirety on Wednesday, June 4. But Mayor Charlie Hales and Novick, who developed the proposal, began changing the schedule after the first public hearing on it last Thursday.

Most of those who testified at the May 29 hearing were either against the fee, wanted it submitted to the voters for approval, or both. Many said they had not heard anything about it before the hearing.

Several witnesses criticized the council for the last-minute changes, saying they made it impossible for the public to follow the process. However, others said they agreed the city needs more money for transportation projects.

Hales and Novick began developing the fee proposal after the release of several city audits saying much of Portland's street system was in poor condition and continuing to deteriorate. The audits said the city needs to spend an additional $75 million on maintenance to make any improvement in their condition.

Hales and Novick discussed the proposed fee at numerous public forums and before several business communities in recent months. But they did not present their proposal until a week before the first public hearing, which was also the start of the Memorial Day weekend and the Portland Rose Festival.

The most recent proposals would have created a residential street fee beginning at $6 a month for the first year, $9 a month for the second year and $12 a month after that. Discounts for low-income homeowners were also included. Several residents and low-income advocates testified such fees were too high.

The fee for businesses, governments and nonprofits were based on the number of motor vehicle trips they generated, as set forth in a manual prepared by the Institute of Transportation Engineers. Several small business owners disputed the estimates for their operations, however, and associations of larger businesses also questioned them.