A Portland minister is warning City Hall that passing a residential street fee and delaying a vote on charging businesses threatens to offload the tax burden onto the poor.
The letter from the Rev. Chuck Currie to the City Council hints at how today's 2 pm hearing on Mayor Charlie Hales and City Commissioner Steve Novick's street fee plan could turn into a donnybrook.
Opposition to the proposal—which would charge Portlanders $138 a year to fund transportation projects, and charge businesses and nonprofits much more—has grown deafening in the week since Hales and Novick announced they would try to pass the fee without a public vote.
The backlash caused Hales and Novick to split the proposal in two, delaying the business side of the fee for at least a few weeks but perhaps as long as November.
Currie, a United Church of Christ minister, warns the City Council not to rush ahead with a fee that would charge low-income families up to $97 a year.
"Residents, particularly those who are low-income and on fixed incomes, need to know that they are not going to shoulder the burden alone on this," Currie writes. "The council should only adopt a full package that is well thought out, debated, and that has community buy-in."
The full text of Currie's letter is here.
Business opposition to the street fee began as soon as it was announced, but community organizations have begun sounding an alarm this week.
Churches began complaining Tuesday. Yesterday, the Northeast Community Center—a nonprofit fitness center and swimming pool in the Hollywood neighborhood—sent an email to its members warning it could be crippled by the fee.
"As an independent, non-profit organization, this is a significant burden for the NECC, and impacts our ability to serve our community, the email says. "The proposed fee structure provides no consideration for non-profit or other public benefit entities."
Like other nonprofits, the Northeast Community Center has urged its members to protest the fee at today's 2 pm hearing.
UPDATE, 1:30 pm: Bi-monthly newspaper Street Roots reports that low-income housing managers and advocates have also sent a letter to City Hall, saying the street fee would harm the poorest of the poor.
"Based on our understanding of the current proposal, the impact on low-income residents, and on the nonprofit organizations that operate on very narrow margins to house and support those residents, would be severe, the Oregon Opportunity Network writes. "The flat fee concept, even at a discount, will affect our tenants in a regressive way; Portland's most vulnerable residents living on fixed incomes or no incomes will be hit the hardest."