Mayor Shane Bemis and apartment managers faced off during last night’s town hall discussion about Gresham’s proposed citywide fee to support public safety and parks budgets, with the mayor rejecting managers’ argument that the $7.50 monthly fee would price out renters.
“I don’t think Gresham’s vision for the future is being the lowest rent area in the region,” Bemis said.
The proposed fee would add $7.50 per month – $15 per bill — to every utility bill in the city of Gresham, about 40,000 residential and commercial customers. City officials say it’s necessary to maintain services. Without the additional $3.5 million revenue per year, they say, police, fire and parks services will suffer additional cuts.
At town hall meetings over the past two weeks, residents’ comments have been evenly divided between support and opposition.
Apartment managers, however, have been universally opposed.
They say the fee puts an unfair burden on apartment owners, who will have to eat the fee — applied per unit in the building — until they can pass it on to renters.
One owner said it will add an additional $9,000 per year operating cost to his property, and another said it will add an additional $16,000 to his.
Meanwhile, big businesses like Fred Meyer and Boeing — and the mayor’s restaurant downtown, one commenter pointed out — would all pay $7.50 per month, just like a residential household, though the businesses arguably use more city services.
Bemis said city officials are considering the fact that a universal $7.50 may not actually be equal, a point that has come up at several town hall meetings.
But he rebuked owners’ arguments that their renters were largely low-income and couldn’t afford an increase in rent to compensate for the monthly fee.
Higher rents, they said, would price out tenants and would diminish owners’ chances of attracting renters from Portland who want to pay less.
“Every apartment is going to pay the same as every household,” Bemis said. He also said repeatedly that city staff would meet with apartment owners to discuss a compromise.
One resident added, “We need to up our demographics. If that means upping rent so we get better people, I’m all for it.”
Bemis did say the city is considering assistance for low-income people who truly can’t afford the $7.50 per month, in the vein of the city’s existing assistance programs.
Currently Gresham has an emergency financial assistance program for single family residences whose monthly income is 150 percent of the federal poverty level or lower, or who, because of extenuating circumstances, cannot pay their bi-monthly utilities bill.
The program is limited to once a year and covers a percentage of a bill.
There’s also the Neighbors Helping Neighbors fund. The program allows people or businesses to donate to the fund, which goes to the utilities assistance program, making available more money to help cover water, wastewater and stormwater bills.
Since it started in 1995 the city has collected more than $5,530 in donations, according to the city.
Carol Rulla, president of the Coalition of Gresham Neighborhood Associations, suggested expanding the program to include the proposed fee. Some residents at town halls said they would pay double or triple the fee. Those people, Rulla said, could do so through the fund.
“Apartment tenants may be struggling, but people in homes may be struggling too,” she said. “This could help.”
Click here to view the original article written by Sara Hottman for OregonLive.com.