Group attacks proposed water rate hike

FILE - The Mount Tabor Reservoir in Portland, Ore. Undated photo. (Christopher Onstott/Portland Tribune)
FILE - The Mount Tabor Reservoir in Portland, Ore. Undated photo. (Christopher Onstott/Portland Tribune)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In their proposed budget, the City of Portland Water Bureau wants to raise water rates. But the group Portlanders for Water Reform said the rate hike is not needed and is designed to go to unnecessary items.

On Tuesday the group turned in signatures to put on the ballot the proposal to strip the city of its control over the water bureau and turn over management to ratepayers in the form of a publicly run water district.

The bureau said the proposed rate hike over five years will pay for a number of things, including $1.5 billion for the big pipe and tens of millions to build underground reservoirs on Kelley and Powell Butte.

But critics, like the Portlanders for Water Reform, claim other non-essential water and sewer related spending is what’s driving rates through the roof.

“There’s all sorts of things the city is spending money on — our water and sewer ratepayer money — that has nothing to do with the water and sewer system,” said the group’s Kent Craford.

He said he added up the city’s proposed water rate increases for the next five years — it adds up to 55 % — which is money Craford says does not need to be spent.

“They’re spending $45 million to build the Water Bureau a Taj Mahal headquarters that they don’t need and they certainly don’t need now.” The proposed headquarters is set for North Interstate.

He also said the city should have told the feds to mind their own business on the underground reservoirs. The federally mandated tanks will cost at least $50 million. Portland water, he said, is the best in the country and doesn’t need this.

There are other expensive items Craford said the bureau could do without — a new water supply line under the Willamette to wholesale water customers west of the river and water bureau money to pay for beefing up sewer lines over east side street car lines on Grand Avenue.

“I think its time to acknowledge that Portland City Hall has failed ratepayers,” he said. “They’ve had their hands in the piggy bank for too long and it’s time to close the lid.”

Despite some resistance, the Portland City Commission on Jan. 8 approved a new partnership with the Citizens Utility Board to oversee water and sewer issues.

The deal is a 5-year agreement with the non-profit Oregon CUB. For 30 years, they’ve been successfully fighting private electric and gas companies to keep rates down, and are now getting an all-access look inside Portland’s water and sewer bureaus.

Of the agreement, Mayor Charlie Hales said, “We’re going to open a window.”

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