Don't Worry, You Can Pay Your Arts Tax Bill by Snail Mail

Taxpayers across Portland opened their mailboxes with barely restrained ecstasy this weekend, delighted to learn the $35 bill for the city arts tax they passed last fall had finally arrived.

Or perhaps not.

Some Portlanders were actually bewitched, bothered and bewildered by the reminder postcard sent by the city's revenue bureau. The card suggests the only way to pay the $35-a-person tax is by computer.

"File & Pay Online," both sides of the white postcard read.

That would have been a fresh inequality atop a tax already criticized by City Commissioner Steve Novick as "beyond regressive," since it charges everyone over federal poverty levels the same amount.

But in fact, citizens can pay the same way they got the notice: by mail.

Though the postcard doesn't suggest paying through the Post Office, it does provide the arts tax program office as a return address. Citizens can send $35 checks to P.O. Box 1278, Portland, OR 97207.

UPDATE, 12:45 pm: Revenue bureau director Thomas Lannom tells WW the intent of the first postcard is to encourage Portlanders to pay online before the full bill is mailed out around April 1. Citizens who pay by March 25 won't get any more mail—saving the city some costs.

"The underlying reason why we're asking people to pay online is because that reduces overhead and allows more money to flow through to the arts," Lannom says. "We're banking on the fact that most Portlanders are smart, environmentally conscious and web-savvy."

Voters passed the tax—which will fund art and music teachers in elementary schools, as well as a litany of nonprofits—in November. Along with it, they created a new city bureaucracy, with overhead costs in the first year reaching more than $1 million to collect an estimated $9.9 million in taxes.

The city hired four full-time employees to collect the tax. They've been combing through voter rolls, vehicle registrations, water bills and Internal Revenue Service records to find Portlanders to pay.

Here is where an instructional video might come in handy. But the city hasn't made one, so you'll have to settle from this video from our news partner KATU about a woman who thought the bill was a scam.

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