Portland charter amendment on water-sewer district

The Bull Run Watershed is the main water supply for the city of Portland. Undated photo. (Portland Tribune)
The Bull Run Watershed is the main water supply for the city of Portland. Undated photo. (Portland Tribune)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Voters around the state of Oregon are already casting their ballots ahead of the May 20 primary election.

Most of the races are local issues on bonds and levies. Here is a look at one of the higher profile races.

All information compiled on the Oregon League of Women Voter’s website.

Multnomah 26-156Portland Charter Amendment to create water and sewer district with elected board

Question: Shall Portland create district not subject to city council control, with elected board, transfer city water, sewer services to it?

Financial Impact: Proponents suggest potential savings to ratepayers with restrictions on non-mission-critical expenditures. Opponents suggest added expenses with duplication of roles and risk of higher borrowing costs for the City.

Probable Results of a Yes Vote:  The City Charter would be amended to  transfer all aspects of managing, operating and financing of Portland’s water, sewer and storm water systems from Portland City Council to that of a new separate District with its own elected board.

Probable Results of a No Vote:  Management, operation and financing of Portland’s water, sewer and storm water systems would remain under the direction and oversight of Portland City Council.

Arguments for or against this measure:

Yes – For the Measure The City Council has not done enough to control increases in water and sewer rates. This measure stops the spending of water/sewer money on “pet projects” with little or nothing to do with the water/sewer system. Questionable water/sewer spending identified in an independent lawsuit now totals $127 million. The proposed Portland Public Water District would provide comprehensive independent oversight needed to rein in utility mismanagement and support ratepayer interests. The measure requires annual financial audits, and benchmarking against similarly sized U.S. cities, whereas neither is required under the current system. An elected board focused solely on managing the utilities is more likely to appreciate that affordable water and sewer rates are an equity issue. This amendment would memorialize in the City Charter current ordinances protecting the Bull Run watershed, prohibit privatization of the water and sewer systems, prohibit relinquishing control of the utilities to suburbs, and prohibit commingling of Bull Run water with other drinking water sources such as the Willamette River.

No – Against the Measure This measure does not provide a mechanism for lowering or slowing the increase of water, sewer or wastewater rates. Even if a new district were to prohibit non-utility expenditures, there is no evidence that future rate increases would be avoided. Requiring the City to issue debt without first vetting the bond issue would put the City’s strong bond rating at risk and could increase costs and/or jeopardize other City programs and services. With control over public rights of way, the District would have authority to cut trees and dig up roads, while leaving cleanup costs to the City’s general fund. District board members would take over responsibility for managing billions of dollars in assets, but would be less visible than City Council members and less subject to public scrutiny. The public is much more able to track and weigh-in on Portland City Council decisions though regular hearings, strong disclosure rules, open budget process, regular media coverage and ultimately through voting in city elections. This measure is backed by industrial water users as a means to lower their costs and to defund the City’s environmental programs. It prohibits thousands of people with expertise on water issues from running to serve on the District board because of their work or relationships with the Water Bureau or Environmental Services. It excludes those who work for some environmental organizations, but does not exclude representatives of industrial users.

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