Monthly city service fee could go to Eugene voters in May

Monthly city service fee could go to Eugene voters in May
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EUGENE, Ore. - Voters could weigh in on a monthly city service fee on the May 2013 ballot.

But first they will have an opportunity to comment on the proposed fee at a public hearing in February.

The city manager presented a plan for a monthly fee of up to $10 at a work session of the Eugene City Council on Monday evening.

City Manager Jon Ruiz said the fee would likely be $5 to $7 per month per dwelling and business location, with a cap of $10 per month written into the law.

The Council voted 6-2 to direct city staff to draft an ordinance creating the fee and bring it to a public hearing on February 4.

Ruiz said the city had trimmed the budget $24 million over the last four years via a 4-point plan of financial stewardship, economic prosperity, investing in community goals and controlling costs.

Even with those increase efficiencies, the city is running a $6 million annual gap between revenue and expenses, Ruiz said.

And new money is not coming in: Ruiz showed how general fund revenues grew an average of 6.2 percent from 2003 to 2009. In the last 4 years, that fund has grown an average of .6 percent per year.

He noted that the city reduced library branch hours last year, and that several one-time budget items - a fire company at Station No. 2, gang prevention and homeless prevention and interventions efforts among them - would not be renewed this year without new revenue.

Ruiz said the city staff has proposed a 4-point plan to solve the problem. The first three prongs are growing the tax base; reducing the footprint of government; and moving park operation costs to the stormwater fee.

The fourth part would be to implement a new city service fee.

Ruiz went over the results of public opinion polling conducted in July and November of 2012.

"Essentially what this says is the majority of the people in the community have said they are willing to pay a modest fee to maintain the services we now enjoy," Ruiz told the council.

The July survey tested proposals for new revenues, including business licenses, a local income tax or a local restaurant tax.

"A monthly service fee was the one people said yes to primarily," Ruiz said.

In November, the poll more specifically tested the fee against an increase in property tax. Again, those polled showed a preference for the fee, with some caveats, Ruiz said.

Voters said they wanted a cap; they wanted some specificity in how the money would be spent; they wanted oversight and transparency; and they wanted the fee reviewed after 5 years.

The proposed framework approved by the council would dedicate the fee to closing that $6 million gap; funding those one-time expenditures added back into the budget last year; and restoring reductions in library services.

The money would not be used to launch new initiatives, he said, but rather to stabilize existing city services and prevent their future erosion.

Ruiz said the proposal would include measure of low-income resident assistance, similar to aid offered by the Eugene Water and Electric Board.