Water, sewer rates on the rise again in Portland

Fee increase of 4.66% on water and sewer bills for next year

Generic water coming from a faucet. (KOIN 6 News)
Generic water coming from a faucet. (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In what has become a frustrating yearly occurrence for Portlanders, water and sewer rates will be going up yet again — but the city is now eliminating a break for developers, which means the increase isn’t as bad as it could have been.

Homeowner Harrison Schadel told KOIN 6 News he’s doing everything he can to decrease his water and sewer bills.

“It’s just ridiculous,” Schadel said. “It’s really hard to save up for this kind of assault on my bank account.”

A watchdog group says the City of Portland is cutting developers too big of a break, and your sewer rates are paying for it. April 27, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)
A watchdog group says the City of Portland is cutting developers too big of a break, and your sewer rates are paying for it. April 27, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)

Schadel wasn’t happy when he found out Portland — the city with a reputation for high utility rates — will be proposing yet another fee increase on Thursday.

“This is putting a lot of strain on the backs of regular people,” he said.

Last month, the nonprofit watchdog group Citizens’ Utility Board found out everyday ratepayers were basically subsidizing developers. They found out it was still happening in the midst of a building boom.

On Wednesday, Commissioner Nick Fish told KOIN 6 News he’s fixing the problem.

“This is great,” Janice Thompson with Citizens’ Utility Board said. “CUB is on the lookout for ways to keep money in ratepayers’ pockets and ratcheting down this rate increase does just that.”

Commissioner Fish is proposing a fee increase of 4.66% on water and sewer bills for next year. That equates to an increase of approximately $4.42 per month for the typical customer.

But if it wasn’t for CUB’s discovery, the increase would have been even higher.

“This is the first tangible example of what it is to have another set of eyes on our books advocating for our residential ratepayers,” Commissioner Fish said.

Fish said it was unrealistic to expect no increase in water and sewage rates, and this was the best he could do. CUB representatives said expecting no increase is unrealistic in part because of aging infrastructure.

Under Fish’s watch, rate increases have been getting smaller and he argues the reputation for high rates is no longer justified.

“The reality is to maintain a healthy, functioning system we have to invest in it. But what we’re trying to signal here is we are investing in the most cost effective and prudent way,” Fish said.

With that said, for some ratepayers, any increase is still a tough sell.

“It makes me feel a little helpless sometimes that the bills keep coming and keep getting worse,” Schadel said.

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