Regressive utility tax lights Salem fuses

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Some citizens say a new utility tax the city is considering is regressive and unfair to residents.  Salem local Jim Scheppke characterizes it as, “another example of how our current City government seems to be all about serving the interests of the town’s elite while sticking it to the little guy.”

He pauses and smiles.  “In this case, it’s really blatant.”

At issue is a tax to be added to the bills of utility customers that would be used to pay for streetlights and street maintenance.

During May, City of Salem Department of Public Works visited neighborhood associations with a presentation outlining reasons the tax was needed.  The presentation showed the significantly decreased funding revenue and the rising costs that would leave some basic services underfunded.

The city’s proposals have all utility customers paying more on every bill, and the monies to be channeled to the specific light and maintenance uses.  It suggested that single-family homes would pay an extra $4 per month for single-family homes and that Salem’s commercial, industrial and public customers would pay more, $13.50 per month.

Bill Smaldone, a member of the SESNA Neighborhood Association heard the presentation at his meeting and says that it provoked “vigorous discussion,” with the group divided on the merits of the tax.

However, Scheppke has been sharply critical of the plan, saying it is patently unfair for a single family pay one-fourth the amount that a large car dealership does – or that Lancaster Mall does – or that the Oregon State Capitol does.

In response, he devised an alternate proposal.  In Scheppke’s plan, which is being circulated to neighborhood associations, a single family pays $2 per month, while the larger customers pay between $30 and $120 per month, (a sliding scale based on the institution’ size and revenue.)   Scheppke’s version maintains that “homeowners should not pay the lion’s share of costs,” for streets and roads of benefit to all Salemites.

Smaldone, who cautions that no one has seen the “real, hard, figures yet,” feels Scheppke’s model would probably serve city residents more fairly.

Mark Becktel works for the City of Salem at Public Works.  Becktel encourages and invites Salem Weekly readers to view information on the issue at the City’s web site, under the link to the Neighborhood Streetlight and Street  Maintenance Fee Proposal.

Becktel says he is not aware of any alternative to the official plan, such as Scheppke’s, but says the City is always happy to study anything like it.

The city’s primary goal, he says, “is to have sufficient funding to perform neighborhood street maintenance and to convert our streetlight system to an energy-efficient, sustainable LED light system.”

The matter won’t be settled until after July 8, 2013, when a public hearing is held at 6:30pm in the Council Chamber (555 Liberty Street) prior to the City Council meeting for the evening.

Becktel says it is unlikely that the Council would make a decision that same evening.  “The following Council meeting is July 22, 2013, where they would probably deliberate an action.”

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