The committee recommends creating a semi-autonomous Portland Water and Sewer Authority that would remain part of City government, but would provide independent management and oversight of the Portland Water Bureau and the Bureau of Environmental Services, which manages the city’s sewer and wastewater services.
The Authority would propose budgets to City Council and set utility rates. While City Council would continue to set policy for the utilities and approve their overall budgets, it would not engage in any administrative functions related to the utilities. The Authority would appoint an administrator for each utility who would oversee and manage the bureaus.
The goal of establishing the Authority is to “promote independent, accountable, sustainable and effective management and oversight,” the report states. “The Authority will better insulate the utilities from political and special interest pressure and help ensure accountability for long-term planning and efficient management.”
The report notes that Portland’s water and sewer bureaus are doing several things right in midst of challenges. For example, the city bureaus are taking expensive but necessary steps to meet environmental regulations and replace aging infrastructure, and their work in asset management is highly regarded in the industry.
Still, the research committee found several problems with the current structure, and concluded: “ratepayers are rightly concerned about how their utility dollars are being spent.” Public services as essential as sewer and water require more focused, dedicated and experienced oversight, the report concludes.