Hales, Novick get earful at raucous street fee meeting

Public meeting for individuals set for Wednesday night

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — A boisterous crowd of business owners nearly filled a room at the Oregon Convention Center to give a piece of their mind to Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick about the proposed Portland street fees.

The early Tuesday morning meeting was geared toward businesses, non-profits and other non-residential entities.

The hearing, testy at times, turned into a meeting where members of the business community wanted to get their points across without any interest in hearing from Hales or Novick.

“There were a number of people who were just kind of mad at us,” Novick told KOIN 6 News. “You expect that.”

The plan

One of the signs displayed at a public meeting on the proposed street fees in Portland, June 24, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
One of the signs displayed at a public meeting on the proposed street fees in Portland, June 24, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

Hales and Novick are the main proponents of the street fee and originally planned to have a City Council vote in July. But public outcry forced a postponement of that City Council vote until November.

The fee would cost two-thirds of all businesses and non-profits around $70 per month. Many said that was too high and they want a public vote.

One business owner said they employ 150 people at a restaurant group in Portland and because of the proposed fee “Seattle is looking really good for our next project.”

Dozens of business leaders said the fee might be a necessary evil but they’re worried it will hurt their bottom line. Moreover, they said, they structure of the proposed fee needs to be fixed.

Asked if the public hearings hold value for him, Novick said, “We came out with a proposal but acknowledge there are other ways to raise the same amount of money.”

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, June 24, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, June 24, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

Both acknowledge there may be other options. Among ideas pitched at the meeting were a gas tax, a business profits tax, a sales tax and a tax on revenues per employee.

“We’re all going to dig into those ideas and see if they would work,” the mayor said.

But their bottom line is, someone has to pay.

“We do think we need to do something, so our committment to do something is not wavering,” Novick said.

Hales said, “We have to pay more for something that we used to think was paid for.”

But when asked if he and other city leaders would reconsider and put the street fee proposal to a public vote, Hales answered with a question of his own.

Dozens of people attended a public meeting on the proposed street fees in Portland, June 24, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
Dozens of people attended a public meeting on the proposed street fees in Portland, June 24, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

“I want to know who will volunteer to lead the campaign for it and raise the money because it will require raising a million dollars or more to communicate the information to all the people who will vote in November,” the mayor said.

“I could punt this to the voters,” Hales said, “and I think I know what would happen.”

“When you go to these forums, you don’t see people coalescing around a particular option,” Novick said.

Novick said they still intend to move some kind of plan forward in November.

The next meeting

A meeting on Wednesday evening will focus on the fee for households. That meeting is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. at Kaiser Permanente’s Town Hall, 3704 N Interstate Avenue.

KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story.

KOIN 6 News reporter Elishah Oesch contributed to this report.

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