Albany’s proposed ordinance imposing a city services fee or tax includes an emergency clause, meaning it will take effect as soon as the council passes and the mayor signs it. This could happen on Wednesday night, when the ordinance is on the agenda of the council’s regular meeting.
Janet Steele, president of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, briefly addressed the council during Monday’s work session and objected to the emergency clause. Her point was: Why the rush?
There’s been no rush, City Manager Peter Troedsson reminded the council later. The council has been working toward this new charge for the last couple of years in order to avoid sharp cuts in city programs and services otherwise made necessary because expenses — mostly in personnel — have been rising faster than tax revenue.
Without an emergency clause, the ordinance would take effect 30 days after the mayor signs it. That would give opponents a month to launch a signature drive to force a referendum, for which they’d need 10 percent of Albany voters. Once the ordinance takes effect, it would take an initiative to repeal it. Getting an initiative on the ballot requires 15 percent of the voters.
Monday’s council discussion brought no surprises. Councilor Matilda Novak opposes the measure in passionate tones, calling for cuts in spending instead. Bessie Johnson doesn’t like the new fee but says the council has no choice but to go ahead with it. Dick Olsen insists property taxes have not risen in proportion to property values because of the constitutional caps voters imposed in the 1990s. To get the full flavor of the discussion, you’ll want to watch and listen to the YouTube recording available here.
Mayor Alex Johnson II raised an eyebrow over a section in the ordinance that calls for civil penalties of up to $1,000 for violating the fee ordinance in any way. The staff told him that language is already in the city’s utilities law.
The fee or tax — $9 a month per household or any developed property, slightly less for apartments, more for commercial properties — would take effect on July 1 or as soon as the city can get the billing going. The amount is to be listed separately in addition to the charges for water, sewer and storm water.
If people pay only part of their utility bill, the money they do pay will be applied to the services fee first, according to a resolution also up for council action Wednesday night. (hh)