Eugene City Council holds public hearings on excise tax, panhandling

The city invited the public to a series of public hearings to discuss a considered construction excise tax and a panhandling ordinance.

Posted: Feb 19, 2019 11:27 PM
Updated: Feb 20, 2019 10:43 AM

EUGENE, Ore. -- Harris Hall was packed on Tuesday evening, full of people that were anxious to talk about the construction excise tax and panhandling ordinances that the city of Eugene are considering.

That construction excise tax would create a tax of 0.33 percent for commercial and industrial construction in July of this year, and would increase to 0.5 percent next in 2020, and finally to 1 percent in July of 2021.

Affordable housing projects, projects receiving a Multi-Unit Property Tax Exemption and houses priced under $250,000 would be exempt from the C.E.T.

Tiffany Edwards with Better Housing Together said they feel 1 percent would be too high.

"We would like to see the city do its part, under council leadership, to prioritize removing barriers and bringing down the cost to development, then evaluating the C.E.T. in two years and make a more timely decision about increasing it to 1 percent," Edwards said.

Others, including students and residents that have struggled to find affordable housing, feel the 1 percent rate is necessary.

"I believe it's a reasonable, measured approach," said a local tenant advocate. "It phases in over time. In 2006, the city of Bend passed a construction excise tax and the sky did not fall."

The other ordinance is an Unlawful Transfer on Vehicular Right-of-Way, otherwise considered panhandling, ordinance.

This would mean drivers or passengers can't give anything to people on street corners unless their vehicle is legally parked, or they could face a $50 fine.

The Eugene ordinance would mirror a Springfield ordinance that was passed in 2016.

At a January city council meeting, a councilor asked the council to consider the ordinance for the sake of public safety.

However, people against the ordinance said they don't feel it's an issue for public safety.

"I think you have to ask one of two questions -- or, both questions," said a Eugene resident. "One, how does this help the homeless if we put in an ordinance like that? And a second question, is what does this do to the police department giving them one more ordinance to enforce when they already say they are overburdened and need more help?"

While people in favor of the ordinance said this is a matter of keeping our streets safe.

"I urge you all to think about this issue and think about those who will be impacted should a driver unintentionally injure someone," said another Eugene resident. "Don't wait until something bad happens. Be proactive and think of keeping your constituents safe. All of them."

The city council will take the feedback they got from Tuesday's meeting, look it over for the next couple of months, and use it to make their decision on the final fate of these ordinances in April.

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