New ‘Street Taxes’ plan proposed to City Council

Take a look at some of the many concerns people say they have about current proposed tax scheme …

At a November “Our Streets” street tax open house, visitors pondered the charts and graphs that indicate how revenue would be collected, and how funds would be spent on transportation projects.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

The latest City of Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) plan for improving transportation infrastructure – now called the “Our Streets” funding plan – was discussed at an open house, held in East Portland on November 5.

People from all over the city gathered at the St. Philip Neri Church Carvlin Hall, where they were greeted by a bevy of PBOT staffers, and chart exhibits that lined the parameter of the room.

“This is a continuation of the ‘Our Streets’ conversation that started, back in January, with an advisory committee,” explained PBOT Public Information Officer Dylan Rivera.

“It has expanded since then; there has been lot of community input, and conversations about funding this program,” Rivera said.

PBOT Public Information Officer Dylan Rivera points out information to a visitor at the Our Streets open house.

The funding mechanism has been through several iterations, Rivera told East Portland News.

“Through the public input that we received from town halls in February, we identified the major needs as safety and maintenance, and established subcategories within them. Generally safety and maintenance are priorities for transportation funding.”

-3 These graphs summarize the “6 Year Improvements” the “Our Streets” taxes are supposed to provide for transportation infrastructure in Portland. PBOT graphic

PBOT’s current charts for “6 Year Improvements” show that Maintenance Projects are divided between “busy” and “residential” streets:

  • Busy Streets, Paving: 38%
  • Residential Streets, Paving: 9%
  • Busy Streets, Signals, Street Lights, Signs: 6%
  • Residential Streets, Signals, Street Lights, Signs: 1%
  • Busy Bridges: 3%
  • Total: $113,600,000; or 56% of spending.

 

“Safety Projects” are broken out as follows:

  • Busy Street Sidewalks: 10%
  • Busy High Crash Corridors: 9%
  • Busy Street Crossings: 6%
  • Busy Street Bike Lanes: 4%
  • Busy Street “Safe Routes to School”: 5%
  • Residential Street “Safe Routes to School”: 5%
  • Residential Street “Neighborhood Greenways”: 3%
  • Residential Alternative Street Design: 3%
  • Total: $89,400,000; or, 44% of spending.

 

PBOT continued holding town halls and doing public opinion research in the late spring, Rivera observed. “That is when we identified that people were telling us that a transportation fee based on use would be the best approach – in which businesses pay half and residents pay half.”

Business concerns noted
In May, PBOT heard “several concerns” from the business community, he said. “Businesses thought we are asking for too much money. And, businesses said they did not like that [the street tax/fee] was structured into the water bill, [making] landlords pass the fee on to the tenants.”

Business owners and managers also bristled at the taxation formula. “Some [businesses] were quoted hundreds or even thousands of dollars they would owe,” Rivera said.

“Businesses really wanted something simpler,” the PDOT spokesman continued. “Their fee will be billed as part of the City Business License program, with an additional schedule for them to fill out.”

With the current plan proposal, the business road tax is based on a computation of:

  1. Square Footage
  2. Number of Employees
  3. Gross Annual Revenue

 

Monthly taxes that a business will pay will range from $3/month for non-profit organizations, up to as much as $144/month for a large hotel.

Visitors to the “Our Streets” open house discuss the proposed changes in how taxes and fees are calculated, and collected.

New ‘Residential Income Tax’ proposed
For residents, PBOT originally proposed a $11.52/month “fee” per household.

The new funding proposal is to impose an income tax on residents, in which “low income” individuals would pay nothing, and high-wage earners would pay a “monthly equivalent rate” of as much as $75/month, per taxpayer, based on the “tax bracket” in which they fall.

“So, for most households, with taxable income under $100,000, they’d be paying the ‘monthly equivalent rate’ of less than eight dollars per month, per taxpayer, not household,” Rivera said. “It would be deductible from their U.S. Income Tax.”

The residential tax is per tax filer, Rivera restated. “People who file state and federal taxes jointly would pay this jointly; singles would file this one single as well. The collection would piggyback on the ‘Portland Arts Tax’.”

Asked if the Portland City Council can impose a new city income tax – the first ever, here – by decree, Rivera responded that they could.

“We have been working closely with the Portland City Attorney’s Office since January, as we have considered various funding options,” Rivera said. “We are confident that the income tax and business entity fee can be approved by the City Council without a referendum.”

Business owners pay at home and office
Asked if business owners, who are also Portland homeowners, face “double taxation”, Rivera said their “business workgroup and other stakeholders” considered this issue. “They came to the conclusion that this transportation funding would be treated just like water, sewer, or phone bills that some people pay as business owners and also as residents.

“Businesses licensed in Portland would pay the fee, regardless of whether they are based in a home or other location.” Rivera added. A review of the proposal shows that, indeed, a discount for residents who also own businesses has been removed from the current proposal.

Some businesses would pass along expenses such as this to their customers, suggested Rivera. “The businesses would pass [the fee] along to customers who live in Portland, and who do not live in Portland.”

Jim Chasse of the East Portland Action Plan, and PDOT Traffic Safety Specialist Greg Raisman, speak at the “Our Streets” open house.

Safety improvements prioritized toward outer East Portland
“Outer East Portland is a big winner in the Our Streets proposal,” Rivera pointed out. “We have prioritized safety improvements there, because the needs are so great there.”

Many inner East Portland neighborhoods have sidewalks, Rivera declared; so “they may get more of the maintenance dollars spending.”

But in outer East Portland, he said, there are many busy streets that lack sidewalks. “And on many of these busy streets, we have a lot of pedestrian deaths and injuries,” Rivera went on. “We know, from national ‘best practices’, that if we put a rapid-flash beacon on a crosswalk, we will save lives.”

At the meeting, long-time outer East Portland transportation activist Jim Chasse said he was pleased with the spending allocation.

“Those of us, who have been working with the East Portland Action Plan for some time, have been advocating for more street improvements funding,” Chasse said. “This proposal puts together a package that will serve outer East Portland really well.

“We appreciate and love it because it puts us right up front,” Chasse added.

The “Our Streets Transportation Funding” has a Portland City Council Hearing scheduled for Thursday, November 20 at 2:00 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, 1221 SW Fourth Avenue..

For more information, please visit the official website: CLICK HERE to open it.  Additional questions and comments can be directed as e-mail to: ourstreetspdx@portlandoregon.gov.

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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