Hales: ‘grudging acceptance’ needed on street fee

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — At an afternoon press conference to detail why they pushed back a City Council vote on a proposed street fee plan, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales said he hoped to get most people “to the point of grudging acceptance.”

The council delayed the vote, scheduled for Wednesday, until November.

The proposal is not popular, but Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick are still committed to having this be a City Council decision and not go on the ballot.

“The issue with having a voter decision is that we know that two-thirds of Portlanders agree we need more money for transportation,” Novick told KOIN 6 News. “We also know there isn’t much agreement on how to pay for it.”

“We have to get most people to the point of grudging acceptance to be able to do this,” Hales said, “and we hope a little more time will get us there.”

Asked how he feels about where the proposal is at this point, Novick was philosophical.

“Actually I feel pretty good,” he said. “I mean, it’s messy, but democracy is messy.”

People packed Portland City Hall during a public meeting over proposed street fees, May 29, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
People packed Portland City Hall during a public meeting over proposed street fees, May 29, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

Originally, the proposed Portland street fees would cost households about $138 per year.

The statement

In a statement released Tuesday morning, Hales said despite several town halls on the issue through the winter and spring, many people hadn’t been heard.

“We get that,” Hales said in the statement. “Postponing the Council vote will give people time to weigh in on whether this is the best solution to this dire need, and to consider changes to make it work better.”

But the council will vote Wednesday on referring a charter change to lock in the use of any street fee only for transportation needs.

With the delay of the street fee vote, Hales said two work groups will be formed. One will analyze policy regarding low income residents and the other will work with small business, nonprofit and government partners on the fee’s design and implementation.

A pothole is repaired in Portland (KOIN 6 News, file)
A pothole is repaired in Portland (KOIN 6 News, file)

Hales also said the goal is to have something completed and in place by July 2015.

Many low-income advocate groups, like Home Forward and Oregon Opportunity Network, expressed concerns about making sure there were proper low-income discounts on the fee.

Michael Buonocore with Home Forward said he was pleased the vote was delayed.

“Even a few dollars a month for a vulnerable senior on a fixed income could mean a choice between some meals or a medicine co-pay,” Buonocore said.

The city listened to the concerns and delayed the council’s vote.

Behind the scenes

Hales and Novick insist they wanted the extra time to more clearly hear from the public, but they also need one more Yes vote for it to pass the City Council.

And that vote will likely come from Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

Fritz wanted those low-income discounts figured out before a vote took place.

“She kind of gently nudged us to the idea that, yeah, we know you’ll be working on it. But, it would be nice to be able to tell people you figured it out before we actually vote on it,” Novick told KOIN 6 News.

Asked if that meant the delay was about her vote or hearing from the community, Novick was candid.

“It’s about both. But I have to say Commissioner Fritz can be very persuasive.”

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