Keeping in touch: Notes from the Mayor

Mayor Lucy VinisThis blog aims to nurture our conversation and understanding of the issues before us. Every week, I will provide a weekly update on the activities in the city government, my activities as mayor, and brief reflections on progress, opportunities and challenges. You are invited to respond with reactions, insights and questions. We do this work together.

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Apr 12

Weekly Recap- April 12, 2019

Posted on April 12, 2019 at 3:11 PM by Nicole Bernstein

The first public forum after any council break is always packed.  This week was no exception.  We heard from 52 citizens; many of whom were concerned by small cell antennae being installed to support the new 5G cell phone technology. We also heard from citizens about the Construction Excise Tax and next week’s vote on the ordinance to fine drivers for giving to panhandlers while stopped at an intersection.

After much deliberation and anticipation, on Monday night Council approved a Construction Excise Tax.  This close vote sets the city on a promising course to develop sustainable funding to support the construction of housing projects that can meet the need at the lower end of the market.  While builders will pay into the fund, they will also benefit from the proceeds.  The ordinance calls for the creation of a housing committee that will review project requests to provide financial support to enable less expensive housing to be built.

Written into the proposal are elements that will soften the transitional costs for builders: the first-year tax on building permits for commercial and residential construction is .33%; moving up to.5% in year two. For those first two years, the value of the CET will be deducted from the System Development Charges by an equal amount.  In year three, builders will pay both in full.  In addition to the creation of a housing committee, the ordinance calls for evaluations every two years to assess the effectiveness of the program in facilitating the construction of more housing people can afford – both subsidized housing by providers and work force housing for lower-wage households.

Council also reviewed and deliberated the Community Safety Revenue proposal.  The revenue committee of three councilors and five community members proposed a payroll tax on both employers and employees to be phased in over six years.  The funding is needed to sustain and increase the investment in our community safety system that has received an 18-month bridge funding of an additional$8.6 million.  The long- term need is to fund a budget of $22.8 million annually.

There are concerns about the impact on minimum wage workers, in particular. The manager suggested that council delay any final decision for 30 days to allow time for more community discussion of this proposal and of other options, one of which could be an income tax.

On Wednesday, we reviewed the Vision Zero Action Plan which focuses on reducing fatalities at targeted intersections both through structural changes, public education about distracted and dangerous driving, and slowing speeds.

Council, acting as the Urban Renewal Agency, also discussed but delayed acting until Monday, the 15th, the funding request to dedicate $5 million of general funds that would come from System Development Charges and elsewhere, to support the construction of the new riverfront park.  This park is the most intensively designed of any park in the city and requires restoration of the riparian zones and removal of old infrastructure to allow for wildlife and river viewing areas, biking and walking paths, natural areas for pollinators, and gathering spaces. Councilors asked for clarification and options to draw the needed funds from the Urban Renewal Agency rather than general funds.