Utility watchdog group: Stop developer discounts

Watchdog group brought in to hold city accountable for water, sewer rates

Sewer flows into the Willamette River (KOIN 6 News, file)
Sewer flows into the Willamette River (KOIN 6 News, file)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — Water and sewer rates in Portland have long been called some of the most expensive in the country, and now a watchdog group has come forward saying the city is cutting developers too big of a break.

“We’re definitely out there looking through the budgets,” Janice Thompson with Citizens Utility Board said. “That is really important that they pay their fair share, developers pay their fair share, so customers aren’t stuck with the full bill.”

After years of controversy and increasing water and sewer rates, the nonprofit Citizens Utility Board was brought in to help save Portlanders money. After spending months looking at the issue, they uncovered a problem.

“To put it in very plain terms, it means homeowners and ordinary people paying their water bill are subsidizing developers who aren’t paying the full freight,” Commissioner Nick Fish said.

When new units go up, developers are charged a fee to connect and buy into the local sewer system. In 2011, the city council voted to decrease that fee due to the recession.

Development is now booming, but the discount is still in place. CUB estimates the city missed out on $2.8 million in collections last year alone.

“We knew we weren’t at full cost recovery, but it took CUB making this recommendation for me to stop and say, you know, you’re right,” Commissioner Fish said. “We have forwarded a recommendation to the mayor.”

CUB has also found industrial waste fees they said need to increase. Last year, they said Portland missed out on more than $4 million they could have collected from developers to offset bills for the average person.

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