Nick Fish: City Should Cover Debit Card Convenience Fees on Arts Tax

Charlie Hales says he won't send tax back to voters.

Portland City Council should consider using general fund money to cover debit card "convenience" fees for the Arts Tax and other online payments to the city, Commissioner Nick Fish says.

"If we can get people in the habit of paying taxes on the Internet, there's a huge benefit to the city," Fish tells WW. "People are just philosophically offended when you charge them a convenience fee."

Fish made the suggestion during a Tuesday meeting of the city work committee that had been considering possible changes to the structure of the Arts Tax—changes abandoned by Mayor Charlie Hales last week.

But Hales suggested yesterday he would support the city covering the service charge for debit card payments on the Arts Tax. He told the committee Fish's plan bolstered "the radical notion of customer service in government."

The city has encouraged Portland taxpayers all year to send in their $35 online, but has been stymied: First because the city website wouldn't take debit cards, then because it started charging the 99-cent convenience fee on debit payments, raising the real price of the Arts Tax to $35.99.

Hales and Fish made their comments to a arts community leaders who Hales described as "mourning" the Arts Tax providing less money to the Regional Arts & Culture Council than the expected $5.4 million a year.

RACC is getting less money—whatever's left after funding arts teachers in Portland schools—because of exceptions to the $35-a-person tax that Hales added for government pensioners and people making less than $1,000 a year.

Hales confirmed WW's Sept. 5 report that he's scuttling any further changes (which might have given RACC more money) and declared he won't send the changes he made to voters (ignoring the demands of The Oregonian's editorial board).

"It's an inelegant metaphor," Hales told the committee, "but we have something like a rubber band connecting the authority of the council to the will of the voters. We haven't stretched that rubber band to the breaking point.

"It's a judgment call how much we can stretch the contract with the voters," the mayor continued. "My answer is: as little as possible."

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