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Residential street fee vote delayed

Mayor Charlie Hales has hit the brakes on the City Council vote on the controversial residential street fee.

Although the vote had been set for Wednesday, Hales announced Tuesday morning that it will delayed until November. That is when the council is tentatively scheduled to take up the fee for businesses, governments and nonprofit organization, including schools and churches.

According to Hales, both fees are still scheduled to take effect in July 2015.

“Think of this as a track race,” Hales said Tuesday morning. “We haven’t moved the finish line, which is July 2015. But we’re moving the starting blocks. We heard from the community: We are taking our time to hear a more robust debate on the details of this fee. But we have not wavered in our resolve. It is our intention to finally address our deteriorating streets.”

The council will still vote Wednesday on placing a measure on the November 2014 General Election ballot dedicating the revenues raised by the fee to transportation projects.

“Voters need to be assured that we will spend this money the way we say we will,” Hales said. “A charter change will ensure that we stay true to that commitment, administration after administration.”

The fee proposal was developed by Hales and Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick to generate additional funds for maintenance, safety and other transportation-related projects. They held several public forums on it in different parts of town, and also met with business owners on a number of occassion. Hales and Novick did not release their final proposal until after those forums and meetings, however.

The first public hearing on the proposal was last Thursday. At that time, the council split the residential fee from the business fee because of complaints from small business owners who felt they could not appoint it.

According to Hales' spokesman Dana Haynes, the mayor decided to delay the residential fee vote after hearing from many people who said they did not have enough information about it. Haynes says many people are also worried about the fee's impact on low-income Portlanders, a concern shared by Hales.

"They want us to be as fair as possible to low-income residents, so we want to see if we can make it less regressive," Haynes says.

Although the City Council is scheduled to vote on the residential street fee on Wednesday, Commissioner Steve Novick believes it needs to be tweaked to ensure that more households are eligible for low income discounts.

The residential fee proposal current calls for households to pay 6 a month in the first years, $9 a month in the second year and $12 a month after that. Low-income discounts would also be offered, although the city does not currently have a way for renters to qualify for them.

Hales also announce that two work groups will be formed to work on the fee proposals. Their charges are as follows:

? To analyze city policy regarding low-income residents and fees. The work group will look at the street fee as well as fees for other city utilities, including water and sewer, to see how well low-income residents are being served and how widely discounts can be

applied.

? To further engage with small business, nonprofit and government partners on design and implementation of the fee.

And Hales says that additional public forums on the fee will be held before the council considers it again.

"The last street free proposal in 2008 was derailed by a lobbyist filing a referendum petition,” Novick said Tuesday morning. “This one has been temporarily delayed due to concerns voiced by small business owners and low-income people and advocates. We are in a hurry to get to work, but if we’re going to be delayed, it’s for the right reasons.”