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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May 31

Weekly Recap- May 31, 2019

Posted on May 31, 2019 at 2:46 PM by Nicole Bernstein

Council held back-to-back meetings this week on Tuesday night and Wednesday due to Memorial Day on Monday. The headline news of the week was the public hearing regarding the proposed payroll tax to fund our network of Community Safety services.

To recap, if approved the ordinance would tax employees in the city of Eugene at 0.4%; and tax employers and minimum wage workers at 0.2%.  This translates into $4/month for a minimum wage worker; $10/month for a worker earning $15/hour; and $83/month for an employer with a payroll of $500,000/year.
The taxes would raise $23.6 million annually to invest in a spectrum of safety services including 40 patrol officers, 5 detectives and 10 community service officers; 9.5 staff for 911; 10 additional jail beds and capacity to open a third courtroom in the municipal court.  It would fund public safety services to address a range of needs and impacts related to homelessness, including expansion of the community and mental health courts, as well as a day center and emergency shelter options.

Of the 28 people who testified on Tuesday, about half opposed the tax.  Some opposition was based on concern that the cost would be too great to bear, particularly for the lowest wage earners; other people objected to investments in police rather than homeless services; still others offered the opposite objection – too much for homeless services. A few Springfield residents who work in Eugene objected to their inclusion in this tax.  We have also received this objection from Springfield’s Mayor Lundberg.

Notably, the Chamber of Commerce board of directors unanimously supported the tax if the ordinance is amended to include provisions for accountability, including requiring a public vote after 5-7 years to determine whether to continue the tax or allow it to expire.

There are a couple of key points to clarify.  While the proposed tax would fund some homeless services, it is not solely concerned with the impacts of homelessness on public safety.  As our Police Chief has said many times, there are many livability crimes – car thefts, break-ins, drug activity – for which police response is inadequate or impossible under current staffing levels.  The funds would enable our police to respond faster, deter crime, and be accountable.

Second, we are concurrently in the initial phases of implementing the recommendations of the TAC report to improve our services for people who are homeless. These two endeavors, enhancement of community safety, as funded through the payroll tax, and enhancement of homeless services are separate but related tracks. The community safety is focused on Eugene’s services; the TAC implementation will be a joint effort with the county, including robust collaboration with nonprofit providers.  In the future with these two initiatives, we expect that a person who is homeless will access services; and that police who interact with someone sleeping in public or private space will be able to offer an alternative, legal place for them to sleep.  We seek to give the capacity to police to do their most effective job for the whole community; and to give people who are homeless a path toward stable lives. Only one of these programs – Community Safety – will be funded by the payroll tax. Council has already committed $1.9 million toward improvement of homeless services.