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Council to vote on residential street fee next week

The City Council is poised to vote on part but not all of the proposed Transportation Utility Fee next Thursday.

After listening to over five hours of occasionally heated public testimony, Mayor Charlie Hales set a vote on the fee on households for next week.

The vote on the fee on businesses, government agencies and nonprofit organizations, including churches, was postponed for at least a few weeks.

Commission Nick Fish raised questions about setting the residential street fee vote without have a chance to absorb all the testimony and offer amendments to the proposal in response to public concerns. Hales said the ordinance enacting the fee was not scheduled to take effect until July 15, and it could be amended after the vote if necessary.

Hales and commissioners Steve Novick and Amanda Fritz all appear ready to approve the residential fee next week, meaning it will pass, even if Fish votes no. He and Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who was not present at the end of the hearing, have said they believe the fee should be referred to voter for approval.

The council heard from both supporters and opponents of the fee at its first public hearing on Thursday.

Early in the hearing, the council accepted an amendment by Commission Steve Novick to separate the proposed fee on residences from the one on businesses, government agencies and nonprofit organizations, including churches.

Novick, who is in charge of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, developed the proposal to raise around $40 million a year with Hales. He said valid questions have been raised about how the non-residential fee was developed that need to be addressed in coming weeks.

Novick's amendment would allow the residential fee to be approved first — perhaps as early as next Thursday — and the remaining fee by November. The amendment said if the other fees are not adopt by then, the residential fee would be invalidated.

The council then accepted a motion from Commissioner Amanda Fritz to reduce the residential from $11.56 a month to $6 a month in the first year, $9 in the second year and $12 in the third year. There were no estimates how much that would reduce the revenue collections.

Several witnesses testified in favor of the fee. They included TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane, who said improved streets and additional sidewalks would benefit riders and operates, and Onstar of the transit advocacy group Jonathan Ostar with OPAL, who said he was concerned about he fee's impact on low-income Portlanders.

Other supporters included representatives of the Portland Police Bureau and the city's Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

Much of the testimony was critical, however. Numerous speakers were opposed to splitting the fees, saying the council should vote on both of them at the same time. Others simply thought they were unaffordable, including both residents, business owners and representatives of business organizations, including Venture Portland, which represents the city's neighborhood business districts.

Paul Romain, a lobbyist representing the Oregon Petroleum Dealers Association, said the fee will end up on the ballot, one way or another. He said that if the council does not place the measure on the ballot itself, there were more than enough people at the hearing who would lead petition drives to do so.