Nowhere are the city's growing pains more evident than over the battles between the "legacy" residents who have kept neighborhoods stable for decades and the newbies who have flooded into certain neighborhoods, driving up property values and adding to the city's coffers with their taxes.
Both constituencies have their supporters. Council President Darrell Clarke champions longtime residents, especially low-income people who struggle to keep current with their property taxes, and whose homes could be at risk every time property assessments or taxes go up.
Allan Domb, on the other hand, campaigned and won on a platform of going after delinquent property taxes, now totaling $415 million.
Domb has proposed legislation enabling more aggressive collection of unpaid property taxes — revenue to help pay for public schools, police officers, and other vital city services. Domb's bill would securitize delinquent property tax bills, selling them to firms that collect on the debts and keep part of the proceeds as a fee.
Owners would get a series of notices informing them of the consequences as well as explaining how they could pay off their debts. The city would maintain control of the liens if owners decided to pay up.
He's been unable to get a hearing on the bill.
Clarke says that the property data are inaccurate and that gentrification is pushing longtime residents out of their homes.
But Clarke does not just represent the Fifth District on City Council. As president, he works for the entire city. He has a duty to allow ideas to live or die by their merits in the public arena.
That's why we think Clarke should schedule a hearing on Domb's legislation.
Clarke is unclear about why he doesn't want this public discussion. He calls Domb's proposal a "work in progress."
Domb in April introduced the latest version of his bill, with six colleagues signing on as co-sponsors. It now sits in Council's nine-member Finance Committee, where Chairwoman Jannie Blackwell will not let it see the light of day without Clarke's OK.
If it's such a bad idea, let's see what the rest of Council has to say.
Domb has rewritten his bill to exclude low-income owners and rightly notes that Council in October passed legislation protecting them from losing their houses by offering very low dollar payment schedules – some can be as low as $0 a month.
Clarke wanted him to protect landlords as well. Domb complied. But that opens a very troubling question. If landlords can't afford to pay their tax bills, what other bills are they avoiding? Water and sewer? Gas and electric?
Domb said the city's most recent numbers show that of the $424 million in unpaid property taxes, $110 million of the debt is already enrolled in payment plans. That leaves $215 million unpaid by landlords and $99 million in debt by people who own their homes.
Clarke shrugs off Domb's efforts, casting him as a rookie legislator who does not know the ropes. But Domb ran a successful single-issue campaign, promising to collect tax debts.