The list of people or agencies expected to pitch in for a proposed (and controversial) Portland street fee is already pretty comprehensive: Homeowners, businesses, and other local governments—all of whom use the city's roads and would face potentially big bills for the privilege of bringing those roads back up to snuff.
But they're not the only ones who will be forced to dip into their pocketbooks. City Commissioner Steve Novick— transportation commissioner and a leader of the street fee push alongside Mayor Charlie Hales—tells the Mercury that the city's own bureaus also will be sent a bill.
"The city bureaus themselves would pay the street fee," Novick says.
It's unclear how much the city will pay itself overall. But the amount, especially for major road users like the city's utility, parks, fire, and police bureaus, could amount to an immodest hit that would come at the expense of other programs already budgeted.
The parks bureau alone is facing a $60,000 to $90,000 annual bill, the only estimated bill Novick said he had time to provide this afternoon.
Maybe that's a big deal. But maybe it's not. Presumably bureau directors and city commissioners have been briefed on the payments—especially since Novick and Hales, as Willamette Week reported today, are moving forward on approval of a street fee ($8 or $12 a month for homeowners, no matter how wealthy) as soon as next week. (Nothing will be assessed until July 2015).
But with all the sudden movement, and with news of a city payment dawning just as suddenly as news last week that partner governments will have to pony up (also first reported by WW), Novick and Hales may have to be careful. Lest they give critics two arguments: one on the merits of the regressive plan (which, yes, would raise money for a host of noble maintenance and safety projects) and one on process, a la fluoride.
Polling wasn't so hot on the street fee. But even still, Commissioners Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman already think the council should directly refer a street fee to voters—in part because they think critics will put it on the ballot anyway, and if the city does it first, that will inoculate the council against accusations it's trying to rush something through.
As a side note, something you can read more about in my upcoming Hall Monitor column, all that leaves the city's current parks commissioner, Amanda Fritz, as something of a swing vote. Sources say Novick made sure to back a budget priority of Fritz's, full funding for enforcement of the city's tree regulations, in case it maybe helped nudge her into his camp.
Fritz says she's not so certain. Not yet.
“I'm waiting for the hearing to see what's proposed and what people say about it,” she says.
Novick tells me he knows Fritz doesn't make deals. Everybody knows.
"Sometimes it might make life easier if she did," Novick says. "But she doesn't."