May 30th, 2014 11:55 am | by AARON MESH News | Posted In: City Hall, Transportation

Here Are Nick Fish's 11 Unanswered Questions on the Portland Street Fee

UPDATE: Steve Novick suggests Fish should lower water and sewer bills for the poor.

news1b_3917Southeast 42nd Avenue remains a mud hole even as nearby Southeast Woodstock Boulevard gets its cracks sealed. - IMAGE: V. Kapoor

City Commissioner Nick Fish has a lot of questions about the Portland street fee.

He tried to raise those questions at last night's public hearing, but was rebuffed by Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick. Today, he sent them by email to all City Council offices.

The fee, which would eventually charge most households $144 a year, is being pushed to rapid approval by Hales and Novick, who want to make sure a potential voter referral is on the November ballot—when a more liberal electorate turns out.

Those two officials grew openly irritated Thursday night when Fish—who has said for weeks he would vote against any proposal that wasn't sent to the ballot—tried to slow the fee's approval.

"I have five pages of unanswered questions," said Fish. He wondered when the council would talk about them, since the last chance to offer amendments to the residential fee was yesterday.

"We've been talking about this for 14 years," replied Hales.

Novick added that Fish could have attended the Transportation Bureau's eight town halls discussing the fee. "This might be the first hearing in this room, but it's not the first hearing," Novick said. (WW examined the case being made for the fee at those hearings in a May 7 story.)

Fish argued that, after nearly six hours of public testimony, it was insulting to not consider changes to address people's objections.

"I want to honor the fact," Fish said, "that for 5 1/2 hours we've listened to people offer concerns on this."

He didn't get his wish—the council moved the proposal to a second reading without hearing his questions.

Today, Fish sent an email to his four colleagues in City Hall. It's not five pages—it's not even close—but he offers 11 unresolved questions he says were raised by public testimony.

Here they are.

From: Commissioner Fish
Sent: Friday, May 30, 2014 12:43 PM
To: Hales, Charlie; Novick, Steve; Fritz, Amanda; Saltzman, Dan
Cc: Kuhn, Hannah; Blackwood, Jim; Shibley, Gail; Warner, Chris; Bizeau, Tom; Finn, Brendan
Subject: Street Fee: Follow-Up
Dear Colleagues,
Based on the testimony and emails I have reviewed, I have a number of questions and concerns about the proposed street fee. They are, in no particular order, as follows:
1. The impact of the proposed fee on low-income renters, particularly those with federal vouchers.
2. The adequacy of discounts generally, and the availability of waivers, for low-income individuals and families.
3. The decision to bifurcate the ordinances on a residential and non-residential fee.
4. The text and purpose of the Mayor’s proposed ballot referral.
5. An analysis of whether it should include a sunset clause or any other triggers.
6. The proposed composition of the oversight committee and the selection process.
7. The financial impact of the fee on the faith community and nonprofits.
8. The cost to City bureaus.
9. Whether and how parking lots should be included.
10. The value of either an administrative cap or annual audits (modeled after the Children’s Levy).
11. Impacts on small business.
I would be pleased to get written comments—or to schedule a follow-up meeting with the PBOT team—whichever makes the most sense.
Thanks in advance.


UPDATE, 5 pm: Novick responded to Fish's email this afternoon. He didn't answer any of the questions, but instead challenged Fish to hold the Water and Environmental Services' bills to the same standard as the new fee.
Commissioner - Last week I learned that fewer than 10,000 Portlanders receive a low-income discount on their water and sewer bills. My understanding is that there is no mechanism for that discount to be applied to multifamily structures, where I presume most section 8 voucher holders reside. If all low income Portlanders received a 30% discount on their sewer bills. It would more than make up for the cost of paying the much smaller transportation fee. I suggest that we assemble a task force to address the question of how to limit the burden of both water and sewer bills and the transportation fee on low income Portlanders. I also suggest that if we are to have a sunset clause for this fee, we should impose the same sunset on water and sewer fees. And if we are to have an administrative cap, the same cap should apply to BES and Water. Thank you.
Novick tells WW he and Fish then had "a constructive conversation" about how to lower utility bills and the street fee for Portland's poorest citizens.

"It’s not exactly a detailed work plan," Novick says, "it’s just that we agreed that we should work together on the broad question of how to alleviate the burden of utility fees (generally) on low income Portlanders."
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