Vote No City Fee
Foes organize against city fee
An opposition PAC will urge Eugene voters to reject the charge on a May 21 ballot measure
By Edward Russo
PUBLISHED: 12:00 A.M., MARCH 12
Let the campaigns begin over Eugene's city services fee.
Two former Eugene city councilors have established a political action committee to fight the proposed citywide residential and business property fee. The City Council put the fee on the May 21 ballot to raise an estimated $5.3 million annually for municipal government.
Former Councilors Bonny Bettman McCornack and Paul Nicholson, along with David Monk, have formed the opposition PAC, which they call "Citizens for Truth, Justice, and the American Way."
"The city service fee is just so regressive, so unfair, and permanent — such a monumentally bad idea — that we couldn't just sit back and not challenge the city's propaganda and funny numbers," Bettman McCornack wrote in an e-mail.
If voters approve the fee, it could cost households up to $120 a year and businesses a maximum of $360 annually per location.
If fee fails, cuts are likely
The City Council majority has said that if voters reject the fee, they would make nearly $5 million in cuts through a variety of reductions. Those would include dropping one fire engine crew at the Whiteaker station, closing the Bethel and Sheldon Branch libraries, shutting Sheldon Pool, closing the downtown library one day a week, trimming police investigations, and reducing funding for social services and other city programs.
Bettman McCornack, Nicholson and Monk are well-known Eugene progressives, or liberals.
In 2007, the three were among the leading opponents of a city proposal to use $40 million in urban renewal funds for a major housing and commercial redevelopment on West Broadway, in the heart of downtown. Voters rejected the financing plan 64 percent to 36 percent.
"Paul, David and I have worked together in the past and share the values of fiscal common sense, elected officials' fiduciary responsibility to the public, and spending public money for demonstrated public benefit," Bettman McCornack wrote.
City Councilor Claire Syrett, who was on the 6-2 council majority supporting the city fee, said she wasn't surprised opponents are organizing to fight it.
"Any time you are proposing a new tax, it's not a surprise that people come out to oppose it," Syrett said.
But Syrett, also a political liberal, said she is disappointed that "these particular folks have come out so strongly against" the fee.
"We are trying to shore up our city's finances so we can have the services that we both need and enjoy in our city," she said.
"They seem to be people who care about the assets of our city and the livability of our city," Syrett said of the PAC's organizers. "And yet they aren't seeing the big picture of what our city is facing."
It's unfair to call the fee regressive, Syrett said, because the council would exempt low-income people from paying it. The council before the election will determine the income levels to be exempted, Syrett said.
"We want to find a way to alleviate the burden of the fee" on low-income residents, she said.
Opponents plan to speak out
Syrett also said that while the fee could last indefinitely, the council will review it in five years. "If property tax revenues come back up and we don't need that fee, it could be eliminated or reduced," she said.
Bettman McCornack said the PAC's name — Citizens for Truth, Justice, and the American Way, is a "bit of fun."
But it also "resonates with our values in that there is no one out there that is going to suddenly show up to protect the little guy or the working families with no time to stand up to City Hall," Bettman McCornack wrote.
The PAC will seek contributions so it can pay for the publication of a "few arguments" in the city Voter's Pamphlet, she said.
She said her group hopes to speak about the fee at neighborhood association meetings and a May 3 City Club of Eugene debate.