August 13th, 2014 | by AARON MESH News | Posted In: City Hall, Transportation

City Hall May Find Money for Road Paving in Its Own Budget, Reducing the Street Fee

     
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news4_4035ROAD WARRIOR: “I’m confronted with situations,” says City Commissioner Steve Novick (right), with Mayor Charlie Hales, “where compromising my values that I’ve always held dear seems more necessary than I would have hoped.” - IMAGE: Kenton Waltz

For months, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick have been adamant that they will create a "street fee" to collect $53 million a year for transportation projects. 

They now seem more inclined to negotiate.

In recent meetings with business leaders, WW has learned, city officials have extended an olive branch: City Hall may find part of that money in its own budget, reducing the amount it demands from taxpayers.

A document presented by the city's chief administrative officer, Fred Miller, to business leaders on Aug. 11 says the city could generate the $53 million it wants to raise for road paving and safety projects from three sources.

One part would come from a residential street fee or an income tax. Another would come from a fee on businesses. And the third part would come from cutting bureau budgets and shifting more money to transportation.

Miller followed up that presentation this afternoon by sending out a memo, which was first reported by The Oregonian. It says public sentiment shows the city needs to dedicate its own money to road repair to get the support of business leaders.

"If fixing streets is important," Miller writes, "the city should show its support by allocating more available revenues to maintenance and safety."

The document Miller presented a business work group on Aug. 11 does not specify how much money the city would contribute from such cuts. But city sources tell WW it could be as much as $14 million a year—leaving $39 million to raise from new taxes or fees.

While the document is vague about how the city would provide its share of the transportation funding, it suggests that City Hall would send more discretionary money from the city's general fund toward the transportation bureau.

WW has reported that over the last decade, City Hall hasn’t altered the portion of the general fund it dedicates to transportation.

The document suggests that the city has identified three ways it could chip in.

The first is by taking the $4.5 million the transportation bureau currently spends on the Portland Streetcar each year, and moving that cost into the city's general fund. (This is an idea Novick has floated before.) 

Second, the city will look for new revenue not related to a street fee. The document doesn't specify what those new revenues would be—but the mayor's office is crafting a tax on recreational marijuana, as WW reported last month.

Finally, Portland could dedicate to transportation a portion of its utility license fee: money paid to the city by power and telephone companies. It's unclear what city bureau or bureaus currently receiving utility licenses monies would take cuts for the benefit of greater transportation funding. 

Hales spokesman Dana Haynes tells WW he can't comment on a new proposal—but that the mayor is open to new ideas.

"The mayor and Commissioner Novick have said they are not married to the current iteration of the fee," Haynes says. "The mayor has said he's open to doing something else more politically palatable. If Fred's proposal does that: Hallelujah."
 
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