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Hall Monitor

Inequity

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City council is due to vote this week on a measure to charge some downtown condo owners a fee to pay the wages of rent-a-cops in the downtown Business Improvement District (BID), a 213-block area incorporated in 1988. Landlords and businesses in the BID already pay the fee for Clean & Safe services—the rent-a-cop and cleaning arm of the Portland Business Alliance (PBA)—and the PBA says the district expansion is a matter of "equity."

I don't think so. Landlords and businesses get to deduct the fee as an expense on their taxes, while private condo owners will simply have to suck it up. Then there's the somewhat arbitrary nature of the assessment of the fees: Macy's department store will pay just $24,000 this year for Clean & Safe services in the district, while condo owners at the KOIN Tower will have no option but to pay a total of $30,000 if council approves the move, according to Richard Leonetti of the KOIN Tower homeowners' association.

There're also the arbitrary boundaries of the BID, which mean condo owners on the east side of SW Park Avenue have to pay the charges, while the folks across the street (like me) narrowly avoid paying—even though we still enjoy the services of the rent-a-cops riding right past! I'd raise a fist over the injustice if the value of my property weren't rising whole percentage points as I type.

Inequity aside of course, I'd love it if they included my condo in the BID, because then I could lobby hard for its dissolution. Why should private citizens pay into a "business" district for private police that the city is supposed to deliver publicly with their regular taxes in the first place?

"I pay real estate taxes," said Jerry Nothman, president of the homeowners' association at the KOIN Tower at a first council hearing on the idea last Wednesday, June 10. "I'd think that would entitle the resident of a unit to police protection in downtown Portland without having to pay additional sums to go out and rent a rent-a-cop."

Well said, Jerry. But did you ever see the movie RoboCop? Like the film's sinister capitalist policing company Omni Consumer Products, the PBA seems to be gambling on a few downtown citizens not having the political clout to block its latest power grab, which will pay for 3,200 more hours of rent-a-cop security in the downtown enclave.

This kind of cynical opportunism is no way to bully through public policy, but council will most likely approve it, regardless.

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