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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Public Water District Petition Effort Moves Forward

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Tue, Aug 6, 2013 at 4:59 PM

The second time's a charm for the water activists and industrial ratepayers who'd like to snatch Portland's water and sewer systems away from city council.

The Portland Auditor's Office on Friday gave a constitutional thumbs up to a proposal that would create an independent elected board, the Portland Public Water District. It's an early, but crucial, step in the fairly involved process of getting an initiative petition before Portland voters.

Backers of the effort, a group called Portlanders for Water Reform, initially submitted paperwork on July 18, but had to pull back when (partly because of questions from the Mercury) they realized the measure contained potentially serious typos. The group refiled on July 26. It needs 30,000 signatures to land the measure on the May 2014 ballot.

With the blessing of city elections staff, the City Attorney's Office will craft ballot language, which could then be appealed by the effort's foes.

Supporters of the new water district also have registered with Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown's office to form a fundraising committee. The group's already been proactive about soliciting donations, recruiting a prominent Republican fundraiser to cajole cash with tales of water rate abuse. No campaign finance activity is listed yet.

The proposal amends the city charter to create a seven-member board that would become an arm of the city, answerable to no one but the electorate. The unpaid members would serve three-year terms, and their only task would be administering Portland's water and sewer systems.

Proponents argue water and sewer rates need an independent eye, and say council has badly misused ratepayer money in the past. But the measure already has its share of opponents, too, including much of Portland City Hall. Only Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Dan Saltzman have yet to come out against the effort, which their colleagues paint as a bid by big business to take over the city's water and sewers.

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