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Vote set again on street fee charter change

After a one week delay, the City Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday on submitting a measure to the Nov. 4 general election ballot to restrict funds raised by a new Transportation User Fee to transportation projects.

The council had been scheduled to consider the proposal City Charter change last Wednesday, June 11. Mayor Charlie Hales delayed the vote after council members received a letter from four business organizations with questions about the fee and council schedule. The council is not expected to consider the fee until Nov. 12, a little more than a week after the vote on the proposed measure.

"The backlog of maintenance and safety [projects] for the city's transportation system is a critical issue that needs to be addressed. We are willing to engage in a conversation about the future of the city's transportation maintenance and safety needs ad opportunities to specifically define both the funding sources and spending priorities, but do not support referring charter amendments in advance of that important public dialogue," reads the letter, which came from the heads of the Portland Business Alliance, the Oregon Petroleum Association, the NW Grocery Association and the Oregon Neighborhood Store Association.

Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick, who is developing the fee with Hales, says he wants the four associations would work with neighborhood business leaders on a proposal for the council to consider that would raises at least $53 million a year, the amount in his and Hales' first fee proposal. That did not happen over the past week, however.

Novick says he hopes the concerns of the business organizations can be addressed by a work group to be appointed to consider fee alternatives, including monthly fees of on residences and businesses, a motor vehicle fee, a gas tax, a sale tax, a tax on business profits, or some combination of them.

In the meantime, the vote is still scheduled for June 18, with consideration of the fee to happen approximately five months later.

The staggered vote schedule is the result of a series of last-minute changes made by Hales and Novick. They had originally agreed to have the council vote on a three-part package on June 4 — the ballot measure, a residential street fee, and a fee on businesses, governments and nonprofit organization, including schools and churches.

But after hearing from many Portlanders either puzzled or opposed to the proposal at the first public hearing on May 29, Hales postponed the vote on the business, government and nonprofit fee. He then postponed the vote on the residential fee at the June 4 hearing.

Hales and Novick do not want to submit the revenue measure to voters. Commissioners Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman have so far said they believe Portlanders should be asked to approve it. Commissioner Amanda Fritz has not yet said where she stands on that question.