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Alliance releases position on proposed Portland Public Water District initiative

Alliance proposes reforms for existing system management


For more information, contact:
Laura Shepard
503.552.6754  |  lshepard@portlandalliance.com

PORTLAND, Ore. – Management of the Portland water and sewer bureaus needs substantive change, but the proposed initiative to create a new, independent water district is fundamentally flawed and may exacerbate problems rather than solve them, the Portland Business Alliance said today.

The Alliance board voted not to take a position on the ballot measure proposal, but that should not be read as a traditional “neutral” position, said Lori Flexer, senior vice president at Ferguson Wellman Capital Management and chair of the Alliance Water/Sewer Task Force.

“After considerable review, our task force and then the board concluded that the current management system for the Water and Environmental Services bureaus does not adequately look out for ratepayer interests,” Flexer said. “We believe change must happen, but when we looked closely at the proposed initiative we found significant problems we could not overlook.”

The Alliance questioned whether the proposed initiative would actually result in lower costs for ratepayer, finding the following flaws in the initiative:
  • ­ Flaws in the management and governance
  • ­ No guarantee of lower rates
  • ­ A significant risk to the city’s very favorable bond rating
  • ­ Mistakes in establishing the district boundary which could result in extensive litigation, and
  • ­ Lack of oversight by the City Auditor
While it found the initiative proposal to be fundamentally flawed, the Alliance board also found that current management structure for the water and sewer districts does not work in the best interests of ratepayers.

“Portland’s commission form of government appears to be the root cause of the issues, by putting control of these important bureaus under a single member of Council,” Flexer said. “We concluded that system needs to be re-examined and new protections created for oversight of water and sewer.”

Specifically, the Alliance recommends:
  • ­ Re-chartering the utilities as municipal corporations of the city
  • ­ Managing the new utility corporations by the entire city council acting in the capacity of board of directors separate from their duties as council members
  • ­ Ensuring rates are set  and capital improvements developed by a citizen advisory commission that represents businesses and ratepayers
  • ­ Requiring four city council votes  to override recommendations made by the commission
The Alliance’s full position can be found here.

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The Portland Business Alliance
The Portland Business Alliance is Greater Portland’s Chamber of Commerce. With more than 1,700 members, the Alliance strives to promote and foster an environment in the Portland region that attracts, supports and retains private-sector jobs, spurs economic vitality and enables quality educational opportunities for the region's residents. Learn more at portlandalliance.com.