Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick Are Hitting the Brakes on Street Fee for Businesses

With hours left before the first public hearing on the Portland street fee, Mayor Charlie Hales and City Commissioner Steve Novick are preparing major changes to the proposal.

Hales' office confirms the mayor and Novick are considering passing the street fee for households only—and removing for now the side that charges businesses and commercial property, as well as churches, government agencies and nonprofits. Business groups have objected most loudly to the plan to raise up to $50 million a year for transportation projects. 

The $138-a-year fee on households will proceed to a June 4 vote. Hales' office says the mayor wants to reconsider how to levy fees on commercial property and add that to the plan later. 

The possible reason for the move: Hales and Novick want to avoid opponents forcing the question to the November ballot, hoping that business leaders will hold off doing so if the fees on their properties are delayed.

Novick and Hales have sought ways to avoid putting the question to voters. Opponents of the fee on homeowners could still force a citywide vote with a petition drive.

"We're not locked in to what you heard one week ago," Hales spokesman Dana Haynes tells WW. "There's still conversations happening right now about how best to roll this thing out. We have to do this. We have to fix these streets. Conversations are: How should we do it?"

Novick has declined comment.

The delay comes amid growing opposition from businesses and nonprofits that would have to pay thousands of dollars a year. The first public hearing on the fee is 2 pm Thursday.

The move would allow the city to approve collecting $20 million a year in new revenue from homeowners.

Business groups—led by associations of restaurants and convenience stores—expressed concern immediately after Novick and Hales revealed the fee plan last week. Churches began voicing alarm today, and the Portland Business Alliance has asked City Hall to slow down.

Haynes says Hales and Novick are talking about putting on the brakes for about a month.

"Businesses are saying, this will hurt," Haynes says. "We hear that. How can we address those salient points?" 

The Oregonian reported earlier this afternoon on one change already being mulled: Transportation officials are reconsidering fee exemptions offered to food carts and parking garages. 

Haynes adds that even if City Council delays a vote on charging businesses, all of the fee would go into effect on July 1, 2015.