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Hales delays street fee measure again

Mayor Charlie Hales has again delayed the City Council vote on a proposed ballot measure related to the Transportation User Fee he and Commissioner Steve Novick are developing.

The council had been scheduled to vote Wednesday on a measure to amend the City Charter to restrict the use of funds raised by the fee to transportation purposes. It is aimed for the Nov. 4 General Election ballot. The council will not consider the actual fee proposal until Nov. 12.

“People don’t trust government. They fear we’ll misuse these funds. And I get that. But our charter is like our constitution. If we lock up the use of these funds in that document, which only Portlanders can change, they can have faith that we’ll use the money exactly as we said we would,” says Hales.

Some people had complained about the speed with which the proposed charter amendment is coming together. According to the Mayor's Office, Hales has slowed down the process to allow time for more public input.

At the same time, the Hales and Novick want to assure Portlanders that “slowing down” doesn’t mean “walking away” from the street fee proposal.

Hales and Novick have also set two new public forums on the fee proposal:

Town Hall on Business and Non-Residential Fee: 8 to 9:30 a.m., Tuesday, June 24, at Venture Portland, 1125 SE Madison St., Suite 112.

Town Hall on Residential Fee: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Wednesday, June 25, at Kaiser Permanente’s Town Hall, 3704 N Interstate Ave.

According to the Mayor's Office, the forums will provide an opportunity for the public to speak with transportation staff, ask questions, and make comments to the Hales, Novick and Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Leah Treat.

The council had been scheduled to consider the proposal City Charter change last Wednesday, June 11. Hales delayed the vote after council members received a letter from four business organizations with questions about the fee and council schedule.

"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.

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.

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.