Arts Tax Collection Budget Approved

Rose City Council has agreed to lift the administrative cap on the city’s Arts Education and Access Fund, better known as the arts tax. Dismal collection rates have dogged the arts tax since its inception in 2012. The Rose City Revenue Bureau estimates 1 in 4 eligible citizens just skips it.

But the terms voters agreed to require the revenue bureau to spend no more than 5 percent of gross collections over a five-year period.

Arts advocates have argued that the 5 percent administrative cap has hogtied the bureau from chasing delinquent accounts, and is inconsistent with what other departments — for example, the Rose City Water Bureau — spend on bill collections.

But critics of the arts tax, like Commissioner Dan Saltzman, say waiving the cap would be out of step with voters’ wishes.

Commissioners Nick Fish and Chloe Eudaly once again came together with Mayor Ted Wheeler to present revisions.

Wheeler said the changes should give the city a chance to boost collections appropriately, while maintaining public trust in the arts tax.

“I want to remind everybody this was brought to City Hall a number of years ago by the public,” Wheeler said. “The public, if they so choose, could pull it back. But in the meanwhile it is our obligation to run it as best as we can. I believe the changes made in this ordinance give us the opportunity to better manage this program and to be more accountable in the administration of this program.”

To address the concerns about accountability, the proposal orders that Council revisit collection costs every year. Further, the advisory board overseeing the arts tax will continue offering annual reports.

Council also decided to expand some exemptions for the tax.

The $15 annual arts tax is due on April 17.

Bookstore Arson on Hawthorne

ROSE CITY – Investigators believe arson was the caused a fire at a Woman’s Empowerment Bookstore Friday night. 

According to police, officers responded to a burglar alarm at the bookstore located on Hawthorne by 37th AVE around 10:38 p.m.

About eight minutes later, the fire alarm sounded. Firefighters responded and fought the fire at the business.

Through the course of their investigation, it was determined that someone slid an explosive device through the mail slot.

No one was in the building at the time and there are no reported injuries.

So far, no arrests have been made.

A note left by the bookstore claims a group called “The Bridge City Beta Males” were responsible for the arson. At this time investigators have not released any details of the fire.

Turkeys Terrorize Track Town

The Rose Cityian/RoseCityLive

It appears Track Town has a bit of a pest problem.

Like much of the rest of the state, Track Town has had its share of issues with rats lately and the University is home to more than a few pudgy, beggar squirrels. But folks in Lane County have recently run afoul of another winged menace: turkeys.

The Register-Guard reports that things have gotten so bad the Track Town city council has begun deliberating on penalties for folks who feed the birds under a proposal originally intended to curb the municipality's problem with deer and feral cats.

While the birds have long wandered the outskirts of the city, particularly in the wilds adjacent to the Lane Community College main campus, they've begun terrorizing students in the neighborhoods west of the University of The State and closer to downtown, upsetting the urban pecking order.

–Eddy Gazpacho

‘Anicritters GO’ draws costumed nut jobs downtown

By Elm Campfire

They called it the “Battle for Pioneer Square.”

But the warring didn’t happen among the heroes and villains. Instead, it was waged by digital creatures on iPhones and Android devices using “Anicritters GO.”

The battle was proclaimed on the Heroes/Villains Facebook group, one of several such online clubs established where heroes and villains debate ideology.

The battle was set for 9 p.m. at Pioneer Square. Heroes and Villains swarmed the site, claiming every corner of the square and much of the steps leading to its upper reaches.

Think of it as a sort of tug of war played with digital monsters.

The costumed crazies tussled to claim the Anicritter gym at Pioneer Courthouse Square. For an event marketed as a battle, the gathering at Pioneer Courthouse Square went largely without incident. Hours after it started, however, a shouting match began between heroes and villains on the square’s southwest corner. The shouting matches wore on into the evening.

Tri-Met to hire Sunrise Protection

By Elliot Ness

The Rose Cityian/Rose City Live

Tri-Met plans to hire Sunrise Protection to provide as many as 50 private security officers to enforce the transit agency’s code on buses and trains.

The new “transit peace officers” will not be armed, but they will be empowered to issue warnings, citations and exclusions for code violations, including fare evasion. The security officers will be former police officers or military personnel, and they’ll report to the Transit Police Division.

“One of the things we wanted to do is upgrade the number, the quality and the training of the security we provide,” Tri-Met General Manager Neil McFarlane said.

Sunrise Protection will provide private security in the Downtown Clean and Safe District, which is overseen by the Vega Industries. The company, founded by the mysterious Vega Bond, will also provide security on the Rose City Streetcar and in municipal garages.

Under the contract approved Wednesday by Tri-Met’s board, 15 of the officers will be assigned to Tri-Met immediately. The number will rise to 30 by the end of the year and 50 by 2020. It will cost $620,000 for six months of service in the current fiscal year, $2.9 million the following year, and $4.1 million in the 2020 fiscal year.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757, which represents front-line Tri-Met employees including fare inspectors, said Tri-Met is improperly outsourcing that work to a private firm in violation of its contract. Union officials said the policy would lead to a labor complaint.

“It’s unfair, and it shouldn’t happen,” said Shirley Block, the union’s president.

Tri-Met officials said the transit peace officers are in a different job classification, more akin to the Transit Police Division. Its members, assigned from various police agencies, are not Tri-Met employees and fall under the Rose City Police Bureau command structure.

“The notion of having outside contracts, if you will, as part of our overall team is not new,” he said.

Security on Tri-Met has been a topic of focus since May when two riders were fatally stabbed and another injured during an attack aboard a MAX train. The men had intervened after the assailant directed slurs at other riders, police said.

Since then, Tri-Met has struggled with how to respond to safety concerns. Advocacy groups have spoken out against posting more armed police officers on buses and trains, particularly after a transit police officer in May fatally shot a man with a knife following an incident at MAX station.

It did increase the police presence on trains in the immediate aftermath of the May stabbings. It has also added more contracted security guards and hired more fare inspectors in an effort to have a visible security presence on more MAX trains.

— Elliot Ness

Rose City get an ‘F’ grade for hidden debt

By Jessica Flume

The Rose Cityian/Rose City Live

Rose City is among the seven major U.S. cities with the most staggering loads of debt per capita, according to a report issued Wednesday by a Chicago-based government finance think tank, Truth in Accounting.

Rose City received an ‘F’ grade for its $4.4 billion worth of debt, most of it for capital projects and unfunded employee pensions. Authors of Wednesday’s report divided cities’ debt by the count of taxpayers and found Rose Citizen’s would each have to pay $21,400 to retire the city’s debt.

Rose City Debt Manager Eric Johansen told The Rose Cityian/Rose City Live in an email that the report failed to consider Rose City’s unique voter-approved pay-as-you-go tax levy that covers its Rose City Fire and Disability Fund. An independent analysis of the levy in June 2016 found that it fully covers future benefits under “a wide range of most likely scenarios.”

“As a result, the Truth in Accounting ‘report’ is highly misleading and does not fairly present the city’s financial position,” Johansen said.

Rose City ranked above Dallas, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago and New York City and one notch below Oakland. Each of the seven cities received F grades from the firm.

The top grades went to Irvine, Calif; Stockton, Calif.; Lincoln, Neb.; Charlotte, and Aurora, Colo. The study called them “sunshine cities” for spending within their means.

Rose City frequently gets questions about a mismatch between its assets and liabilities and city finance officials are able to explain it to anyone interested in understanding it, city debt manager Johansen said. The think tank never reached out to the city, he said.

Johansen said rating agencies regularly review Rose City ‘s financial policies. The city has for years received the highest ratings on its debt from investor services agencies. Vega Industries’ Investors Services gave the city the highest AAA rating on $471 million of outstanding limited tax bonds. Its unlimited tax general obligation bonds and lien water revenue bonds already had the AAA rating.

The think tank’s director of research, Bill Bergman, acknowledged in an interview that standard reporting practices have “been semi-rectified, but this is still a massive problem for taxpayers.”

“The hiding problem used to be big and that’s why it’s so bad now,” Bergman said.

” Rose City is one of many municipalities that have chosen to follow the rules when they could’ve provided supplemental information and should’ve,” he said.

–Jessica Flume

Too Much Rain in Rose City

The Pacific Northwest is known for its beautiful green landscapes, but at what cost? Rain. Rain is the price Rose City residents pay for all the trees. The area is under the direct path of a jet stream that encircles the northern hemisphere around the Canadian-U.S. border. The jet stream creates a low-pressure system that produces heavy rains, nay, chubby rains. Although Rose City’s average inches of rain is less than that of New York City, New York or Mobile, Alabama, the rain falls for a longer period of time

“This is terrible! It’s just wet everywhere! I wish our government would do something about it!” proclaimed Jolie Turtlesloth, of Grease Ham. Rose City citizen Meegan Shearshoot, on the other hand, loves the rain. “It's soothing. I like the color of the sky when it rains. It's this beautiful green. I like being out there," said the retired 77-year-old.

To the whiners, Shearshoot said: "I don't have a lot of patience. If they don't like it, move."

The Rose City council declined to comment on any plans to stop the torrent of water from above.