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Should Commissioner Novick Be Worried About His Challenger?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

 

Stuart Emmons; via Stuart Emmons' Facebook page

Commissioner Steve Novick will have company on the ballot in May. Stuart Emmons, a Portland designer and executive, told GoLocal he plans to challenge Novick for his seat in this year’s election.

Emmons told GoLocal that he plans to officially announce his campaign in “mid-January.”

Emmons is the founder and head of Emmons Design, an architecture and planning firm in Portland. He is described on the company’s website as “an architect, urban designer, planner, craftsman, writer, advocate, manager, activist.”

Emmons attended the School for American Craftsman at the Rochester Institute of Technology, the London College of Furniture and Portland State University. He holds a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and a Master of Architecture degree from Harvard University.

A “Competitive Seat”

Rebecca Tweed, Political and Communications Director for State Street Solutions, told GoLocal that she believes Emmons can make a strong run for Novick’s place on the City Council.

“Novick would be challenging to beat, but he isn’t untouchable,” Tweed said. “Incumbency comes with benefits, but it also comes with a voting record that’s susceptible to scrutiny, and accountability for current situations and outcomes that Novick will have to face. A smart campaign could make that a competitive seat.”

Most recently, Novick has attracted attention for his gas tax proposal. Novick has proposed a ballot measure that would increase the tax on gasoline sold in Multnomah County by 10 cents per gallon.

The tax would bring in an estimated $58 million over the tax’s four-year lifespan. The money would be used to fund street repairs, desperately needed in a city with crumbling roads.

In a poll released in October, a slim majority of voters said the favored the proposal.

Fundraising Fortunes

Emmons has already shown he can raise the money needed to fund a campaign. Since December 3, he has received a total of 37 campaign contributions. All told, Emmons has raised $20,625. as of January 11.

That has at least been enough to keep near to contributions to the incumbent Novick. Over the same period of time, Novick reported about $35,000 in campaign contributions.

Tweed said that Emmons’ success in fundraising signals real strength in the early days of his campaign.

“$20,000 in that short a time period for an unannounced challenger certainly falls into the “pay-attention” category,” Tweed said. “That’s a large enough amount to reflect there’s initial buy-in and momentum behind his candidacy.”

A Changing of the Guard?

With Charlie Hales’ imminent departure as Mayor, a victory by Emmons would signal real change at the top of Portland’s city government, Tweed said. 

“Portland is facing many big challenges right now, and I think the number of competitive campaigns we’ll see in 2016 in Portland is reflective of uncertainty about the future of the city,” Tweed said.This unrest usually manifests itself by more individuals running for office, and possibly with a slight advantage.” 

“If incumbents don’t appear to be getting the job done and Portlanders are dissatisfied, that brings momentum to the challengers. I think it’s too early to tell how voters are approaching these types of campaigns – do they want “out with old, in with the new” or is it the time, now more than ever, to stick with experienced, rooted leadership to navigate through tough times?”

 

Related Slideshow: Ways To Fund Street Repairs Without A Street Fee

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Portland Gas Tax

Currently, there is a $.03 Multnomah County gas tax. The tax revenue is split about 20 percent to Multnomah County and 80 percent to the city.  Every $.01 increase in the tax would next about $1.36 million to the city, according to PBOT’s budget.  Given that, the City of Portland has the power to levy its own gas tax.

The Politics: Hugely unpopular for not a lot of cash, but perhaps less unpopular than an income tax.

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Dynamic Pricing

Seattle and San Francisco use “dynamic pricing” on their parking meters. That means that the price to park goes up depending on the time of day and the location of the meter. For instance, if you are parking right in front of the Schnitz at 7 p.m. on a Saturday night, it’s going to cost you more than a $1.60 an hour. 

Portland’s current meters could be programed for dynamic pricing, according to experts, and with 9,000 meters in the city, that could add up.

The Politics: Despite some grumbling, the city doesn’t need anyone’s permission to raising parking meter fees. Parking revenue is completely unrestricted, meaning it can be spent anywhere and on anything.

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License Registration

With 692,201 registered vehicles in the county in 2013 a $20 vehicle license registration fee, with a 20/80 split to the county (like with the current gas tax), could generate $11 million for the city every two years.

The Politics: This would have to go through the Multnomah County Board. The county doesn’t really need cash for infrastructure at the moment, as it has a few big federal grants lined up to pay for upcoming bridge repairs. The challenge would be offering the commissioners a deal sweet enough for them to take the political hit.

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More Parking Meters

A parking meter costs about $1 an hour to operate. So at $1.60 and hour, about $.60 is pure profit. More meters are already in the works for Northwest Portland. Meters in all major shopping districts from Southeast Hawthorne, Division and Belmont Streets to Northeast Alberta Street to North Mississippi and Williams Avenue could raise money for improvements in those areas. 

The Politics: Neighbors and businesses would whinge endlessly. But many studies say that parking meters benefit businesses by keeping spaces turning over. Residents could be issued parking stickers to exempt them from charges. 

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Raise Smart Park Fees

The city controls 3,800 spaces in six downtown garages. Smart Park cost about $11 million a year to run, according to PBOT’s budget.  All told parking charges from meters and Smart Park brings in $45 million a year but the system is not operated to maximize revenue.  Dynamic pricing might be hard to implement at the garages but the city could raise the rates.

The Politics: Downtown business interests might complain that raising parking rates would stop people from shopping and visiting downtown.  The public interest would have to decide if that’s a risk to take, given the alternatives are an income tax or tattered roads. 

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Shift SDCs from Parks

System Development Charges are fees that different city bureaus level against new construction projects in Portland. Parks, PBOT, the water and environmental services bureaus can all level SDCs at developers.  

The rationale is, if new development puts a strain on city infrastructure, like roads and sewer lines, then it should pay extra to upgrade the systems. However, most SDCs get charged to developments in the city’s center, while the revenue goes to pay for projects all over Portland.

Over the last four years, Parks & Rec has averaged about $9 million a year in SDC revenue.  The city could pull the bureau’s power to charge and let PBOT charge more.

The Politics: It would be a fight with parks supporters. Parks has said it needs $49 million a year just for new parks acquisitions.  But it might be more logical to raise that money through bonds, or repurposing taxpayer-owned golf courses, especially ones in park-starved parts of town.

Photo: Berkeley Park in SE Portland, via Wikimedia Commons 

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Raise Retirement

Raise police and fire reitrement. 

Police Chief Mike Reese announced his retirement this year at the ripe old age of 55.  But he qualified for retirement much earlier, at age 50.  Putting five years on the clock would certainly save the taxpayers some cash that could be used on roads or anything else.

The Politics: You’d have to face the union and that wouldn’t be pretty.

Photo: Former Portland Police Chief Mike Reese

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Reform Retirement

Portland’s Police and Fire Retirement Fund was set up by voters in 1948 and has resulted in a huge hole the public must now dig itself out of. Despite voter-approved reforms in 2006 and 2012, the obligation is still a fiscal time bomb. As of June 30, 2012, unfunded liability in the fund was in the neighborhood of $2.9 billion.

The Politics: Public employee pension obligations are the stuff of municipal bankruptcy court. It’s a hard fight, but reforms were suggested by Portland’s City Auditor’s Office as recently as Jan. 2013.

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Fix Tax Compression

In 1996, Measure 50 cut and capped property taxes across the state. It froze the assessed value of homes at their 1995 level and limited growth in value to three percent a year.  

In Portland, the result is a system in which homes that have increased in value rapidly pay very little taxes and homes that haven’t increased in value much can pay sky-high taxes. The short hand for the squeeze in tax equity is “tax compression.”

The city loses about $24 million a year due to tax compression, according to the city auditor. If the city, county or state could figure out a way to fix the issue there could more money for everyone: They’ve had 20 years to think about it.

The Politics: There has been endless talk about tax reform in Oregon. The Governor put it as a major priority of his fourth term.  All the old tax-revolt warriors have long since left the scene, but the political will to do much more than talk will be hard to find.

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Stop Urban Renewal

About $.25 of every $1 that the city gets in property tax revenue goes to pay down debt on urban renewal projects.  Mayor Charlie Hales has talked about sunsetting urban renewal districts.  

On the immediate horizon, the Eastside Industrial URA has the power to issue new debt up until 2018. One step forward would be to stop that right now.

The Politics: Urban renewal is a cash cow for commissioners and their pet projects. No one really wants the system to change. But if it’s a choice between taking a hit on pet projects or a city tax revolt, commissioners might support clipping their own wings a bit. 

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Put PBOT Out to Bid

Private companies can pave roads and clean them too can’t they? What if they could do it for less money than the city? PBOT could put services like street repair and cleaning out to bid.  

It might not save a lot of cash, but it might win trust with the voters by showing them that the city was trying to get the best price for the public’s money.

The Politics: “Privatize” is dirty word in liberal Portland. But then, "income tax" might prove to be even worse.

 
 

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