Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick responded to critics of a proposed street fee at a town hall hearing Wednesday night.
The plan would to raise money to fix Portland’s deteriorating streets by charging households and businesses a monthly fee.
The proposed fee would cost $12 a month for most single family households, and between $5 and 8 a month for low-income families.
Three people spoke in favor of the street fee at the hearing, which was held in North Portland. More than 30 spoke against it.
Many of those opposed say they are retirees or living on fixed incomes and simply can’t afford to pay, like Shirley Nanette Clay.
Clay said, “My property taxes are going up. We can’t afford all of these taxes. They’re ridiculous. We need some better solutions to the problem.”
Commissioner Novick says a working group is looking for ways to make the street fee more affordable for low-income people. Novick says a small income tax increase could be used to fund street maintenance and would place less of a burden on the poor, but he believes voters are skeptical of that option.
Novick explained, “Given that we’ve gotten such a strong reaction to the regressivity of the fee, that’s one of the reasons that a progressive income tax was up on the board for people to consider.”
Novick and Hales asked members of the public for their ideas on how to raise money to repair Portland’s streets. One man proposed charging people a nickel for every pound their car weighs when they renew their vehicle registration. Others proposed raising the state gas tax. Retired electrician
Leon Yetsko suggested this: “Since I share the road so often I would like to see bicyclists pay more.”
A registration fee for bicycles was a popular suggestion. But Mayor Hales says registering bikes won’t raise enough money to pay for the the city’s paving backlog.
Hales told the group, “There are about 25,000 regular bike commuters in the city of Portland. If we charged each and every one of them 200 bucks a year, that’s $5 million. So that’s $5 million; we need fifty.”
In fact, The Portland Bureau of Transportation estimates that it needs $75 million a year for 10 years to address its paving backlog. Novick, who oversees the Transportation bureau, says he’s determined to keep re-working the proposal until he has something that will pass a council vote.
Novick said, “Because every month that goes by, another stretch of road falls into a worse condition and it’s more expensive to fix it.”
Novick and the Mayor say the plan to bring a revised street fee proposal before the city council for a vote by November.