PORTLAND, OR — Portland’s method of collecting fees, taxes and fines from its residents and businesses is a “patchy approach” that “can be confusing…and harmful to some Portland residents.” That’s the conclusion of a new report from the City Auditor’s office.
“Governments need funding to operate, but should collect money from residents and businesses using a process that is clear, fair and allows people to meet their obligations as easily as possible while recognizing that some people may struggle to pay,” the report said. .
“The City of Portland does not consistently meet these standards.”
The report says there is not a single department that “oversees collection methods, and no place Portlanders can go to get help with unpaid bills.”
The audit found that while some offices collect fees aggressively, even adding late fees, others take a more relaxed approach.
“Someone can be behind with payments to more than one office, each operating under different policies,” the report says, adding that it can be very confusing for people, especially those whose native language doesn’t. is not English.
Most collection efforts don’t even include translation information in the letters or let people know that if their account is referred to a collection agency, an additional fee of up to 23% will be added.
Residents and businesses are often not informed about how to obtain extensions, fee waivers and other forms of assistance available to them.
The audit also found that while the letters always include the required legal language, they often do not include a plain language translation for people without a law degree.
Auditors recommend that the city work with city council to streamline the process and make it easier for people. The report says the offices and their commissioners “generally agree with our recommendations.”
At the same time, none of them present a plan or timetable to solve the problems.