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Critics of City Fee Getting Organized

Claiming support from both liberals and conservatives, a small group of Eugene citizens has organized a Political Action Committee (PAC) to campaign against Ballot Measure 20-211, the proposed fees for city residences and business that will be on the ballot in May. 

Citizens for Truth, Justice, and the American Way (CiTJAW) has a website at votenocityfee.org and the PAC directors are Bonny Bettman McCornack and Paul Nicholson, both former city councilors. David Monk is the treasurer.

City Manager Jon Ruiz told City Club of Eugene in January that the city anticipates a $6 million deficit next year in the general fund. “We are exploring new revenue sources in order to go forward,” he said. After extensive opinion polling last fall, city staff came up with proposals for both an additional stormwater fee and a five-year tax levy, but the City Council decided to narrow it down to a monthly fee of up to $10 on dwelling units and a $30 monthly fee on businesses, ideally to be added to EWEB utility bills. Some low-income households will be exempt from the fee, but the details have not yet been worked out.

On the record supporting the fee at this point are Mayor Kitty Piercy and Councilors Alan Zelenka, George Brown, Claire Syrett and Chris Pryor. Popular social service and public safety programs are on the chopping block if the measure fails.

No PAC has yet formed to support the fee measure, but CiTJAW appears to be gaining ground. “Surprisingly, we are building a coalition of both D’s and R’s,” says Bettman McCornack. “We are looking forward to multiple opportunities to shed some light on this unprecedented money measure, and the city’s convoluted priorities.”

Bettman McCornack says the PAC will be raising a number of issues on what she calls a “regressive piece of work.” She says city revenues are going up each year, but the city councilors who are supporting this measure don’t really understanding the budget and where the reserves are that can be tapped. “The budget is less opaque now than when I was on the council,” she says.

“Why are the senior staff getting COLA [Cost of Living Adjustment] increases?” she asks. “We need to rethink how government works.” 

The group will be focusing on the city’s untapped millions of dollars in fund balances and reserves scattered through various city departments, the need to sunset Eugene’s ongoing tax breaks for developers, the need to examine city management pay and staffing and unresolved issues on how the fees will be collected and who will qualify for exemption.

“There’s no hidden money or pot of gold to be tapped,” says Councilor Pryor, and Mayor Piercy agrees. “We’ve worked nonstop for four years to deal with the revenue issues and the city now has 100 fewer employees,” she says. The city still has 1,445 FTE employees. Salem, with a nearly identical population, has 1,158 career employees plus 164 temporary employees limited to 1,200 hours a year.

The projected cuts to social and human services and public safety “are not a threat, they are reality,” says Councilor Zelenka. “These services go away July 1 if the vote fails.”

“It’s a false choice,” says Bettman McCornack. “Maybe if the public refuses to repeatedly bail them out, City Hall will get motivated to pursue critical tax reforms here at home and statewide.”