City Club of Portland Views on Water/Sewer rates

Draft City Club report recommends changes to Portland water, sewer bureaus to improve oversight and build ratepayer confidence
Report recommends ‘no’ vote on proposed ballot measure, proposes alternate structure
The City Club of Portland today released a draft research report that recommends a new governance structure to improve oversight of the Portland’s water and sewer bureaus, while recommending a “no” vote on a proposed ballot measure to create a separate Portland Public Water District.
“While changes are needed in oversight and management of these bureaus, this ballot measure is not the solution,” the committee states in its report. “More modest steps can improve the process of setting (bureau) budgets and rates and enhance the effectiveness and efficiencies of the bureaus.”
New Governance Structure
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.
Ballot Measure Recommendation
In recommending a “no” vote on the May 20 ballot to create a new government entity, the committee found the ballot measure is poorly structured, likely to face legal challenges, and unlikely to save money. “Your committee sees nothing in the measure that will guarantee (lower rates.)  Rates will continue to be subject to upward pressure, regardless of the utilities’ governance.
The draft research report and recommendations, titled “ Rising Rates and Customer Concerns: Assessing Governance of Portland’s Water and Sewer Utilities,” will become the official position of the City Club of Portland if a majority of its members vote to approve it by March 19. The committee interviewed 31 witnesses, including supporters and critics of the City’s water and sewer bureaus. The committee also studied the governance, of water, sewer and wastewater utilities in other municipalities.
City Club will host an informational town hall about the report’s findings, conclusions and recommendations,Wednesday, March 12, 5:30-7:00pm at the Green Dragon, 928 SE 9th Ave., Portland. FREE and open to everyone, but space in limited. Click here to reserve your space.
City Club members will vote on the report and its recommendations prior to the forum on Friday, March 14, at The Governor Hotel, starting at 11:30am; doors will open at 11:00am. Voting will occur at that meeting and online. The outcome of the vote will be published on the City Club of Portland’s website and reported in the City Club Bulletin, released Thursday, March 20. Voting on City Club reports is a perk of membership, along with all these other benefits! Join today!
Help shape the future of Portland & Oregon. Apply by Friday, April 4 to serve on a Board or Committee at City Club of Portland. We have openings on the Board of Governors, Research Board, Advocacy Board, Friday Forum, Member-Led Forum and New Leaders Collective.Click here to fill out an application.