Dave Neeson

PORTLAND HAS a panhandling problem, and not just downtown. Don't believe us? Check out this fall's ballot.

Three agencies whose coffers have been sucked dry by the recession (TriMet, the Oregon Historical Society, and the city's fire bureau) are turning to voters and hoping we'll approve some $210 million in new taxes to keep them afloat.

They may not be as sexy as the Cowboy vs. Trail Blazer governor's race, but these levies could have just as big of an impact on your wallet—and your city.

TriMet's Broken Buses

WHAT IT IS: TriMet needs to replace aging buses, buy more vans that transport disabled riders, and improve 300 bus stops across the city. TriMet is selling this measure, which renews a property tax voters approved in 1990, as crucial to improving access to transit for aging Baby Boomers (in the past 10 years, requests to transport elderly and disabled riders have increased 69 percent). With the money, TriMet will replace 150 high-floor buses (which old and disabled people find difficult to board) with low-floor ones at a cost of $425,000 to $440,000 per bus. About 20 percent of the money will go toward building sidewalks, benches, and other improvements at bus stops that pose problems for disabled people.

MONEY AT STAKE: $125 million for a 21-year property tax, essentially eight cents for every $1,000 of value.

WHY US? This is a renewal of a property tax from 1990. TriMet is in trouble because payroll taxes make up 55 percent of its budget—meaning it suffers whenever unemployment balloons.

BACKERS: Groups serving the poor and elderly have endorsed the measure. The biggest gift, $20,000, came from light-rail contractors Stacy and Witbeck.

OPPONENTS: Pro-transit groups criticize TriMet for cutting bus service for a decade, then turning to property taxes to improve it. The Oregonian says TriMet shouldn't go into debt to pay for the improvements.

History Museum Lifeline

WHAT IT IS: Facing a budget crunch in 2003, the state axed funding for the Oregon Historical Society. With a looming deficit of its own, the state's history museum and library can't go it alone any longer and need a bailout to keep their doors open and restore cuts to library staff.

MONEY AT STAKE: $12 million in a five-year property tax, or five cents for every $1,000 of value. In exchange, Multnomah County residents will score free museum access (currently $11).

WHY US? Even the people who wrote the levy agree that one county shouldn't bear the burden of supporting a museum that serves the entire state. But the museum is also the de facto Multnomah County museum, with 60 percent of the materials about our county.

BACKERS: History lovers. The county commission also unanimously endorsed the measure.

OPPONENTS: The historical society got into hot water with its staff last year after it cut the library staff from 15 people to four. Though many of those ex-librarians support keeping the museum open, they also criticized the society for failing to find or lobby for more reliable funding.

Fire! Fire! Fire!

WHAT IT IS: The fire bureau's radios are so outdated they don't even work in parts of hilly Southwest Portland. Plus an audit revealed firefighters didn't meet response-time goals 15 percent of the time. The bureau wants to replace aging fire engines, build a new station and emergency response center, and update radios.

MONEY AT STAKE: The city will borrow $72.4 million, to be paid back with property tax revenue—adding about nine to 14 cents for every $1,000 in value.

WHY US? The upgrades didn't make it into the budget this year, so making them happen means asking voters.

BACKERS: Fire Commissioner Randy Leonard is the political champion. The firefighters union and big companies out for political points (Motorola, PGE, Nike) are major donors.

OPPONENTS: City Commissioner Amanda Fritz voted against the bond in July, arguing the city should fund basic services from its general fund.