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No More Free Lunch

City Hall Charges Politicians and Homeless for Services

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Like parents cutting off the allowance for teenage kids, last week City Hall cinched its purse strings tight and sent bills off to Senator Gordon Smith as well as Dignity Village, asking that they pay for the expenses they are inadvertently costing the city. Dogged by acute budget shortfalls and mounting public pressure for fiscal accountability, City Hall responded to complaints that a recent fundraiser for Sen. Smith cost $100,000 in extra police and overtime.

Many were upset that the fundraiser (that gathered a reported $1 million for Sen. Smith) cost the city so much money.

Responding to that concern, Mayor Katz' office sent bills to Sen. Smith and several other politicians who have hosted fundraisers in Portland. Bill Bradley, who is running against Smith, also received a bill for police escorts for Bill Clinton, who attended a Democratic fundraiser in July; Bradley's office has pledged to pay the money. Smith's office has yet to respond to the request.

Also last week, the city made concessions for Dignity Village, a tent city near the airport housing 70 homeless men and women. Facing a September 30 eviction date, council member Erik Sten's office negotiated a deal that will allow the squatters to stay put for another year. But under the conditions of the agreement, members of Dignity Village must pay for any and all costs incurred by their tenancy.

Normally, the site--an asphalt lot adjacent to a county jail--is used to store the leaves that the city gathers in fall. Last year, when Dignity Village first moved there, a local entrepreneur paid to have the leaves transported elsewhere for composting. But now, to continue to reside at the site, Dignity Village will need to pay an estimated $50,000 to have the leaves trucked elsewhere and for services--like water--on the property.

According to Marshall Runkel with Sten's office, charging Dignity Village for services may ultimately provide incentive for them to move onto private property.

"Their vision is to have their own non-profit [and their own property] so that we can't hassle them and tell them what to do," Runkel says.

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