The stories of Water Bureau ratepayer abuse at Portland Water Bureau are legend around these parts.
Wait, you might be thinking, water rates? Who cares?
Well, that’s kinda the point. Not too many people pay attention, and they keep on electing the people responsible for creating slush funds with our water bill receipts.
And if you dispute your rates or your bill? Don’t bother. The Customer Service reps are trained not to respond to customer disputes (more on that in a future post).
Some of the more incredible uses of water bureau revenues were detailed in a recent report by the Portland City Auditor:
It’s the latest example of mission creep by city utilities that use money collected from ratepayers to pay for non-utility programs or projects that should instead receive money from the city’s discretionary general fund, critics say.
The audit also found that sewer money is being increasingly used to pay for parks and planning — annual spending that has increased from less than $200,000 four years ago to $2.5 million today.
The expenses are just a drop in the bucket compared with overall budgets for Portland’s Water and Environmental Services bureaus, which collected about $478 million this year. But the audit calls into question spending for several efforts that have little to do with the bureaus’ core jobs of delivering water and handling sewage: construction of a high-end house, community college scholarships, Benson Bubblers and dog-park enforcement.
The Water Bureau is controlled by Commissioner Randy Leonard, who has a well-earned reputation for strong arm tactics at city hall.
Anna Griffin wrote in the Oregonian earlier this year:
Members of the Portland Utility Review Board, a volunteer commission that helps track water and sewer budgets, complain annually about how the utilities spend public money. Occasionally one of Leonard’s fellow commissioners will echo their concerns.
Yet you don’t hear them demanding to take over the Water Bureau themselves.
They don’t want to pick such a public fight with Leonard. They also don’t want the political and logistical headaches that come with running a utility. Far better to let Leonard, whose unbridled audacity is fun to watch as long as its not your money he’s playing with, do his own thing.
Perhaps the biggest insult was using Portland Water Bureau funds (located, as you’ll recall, in Multnomah County) for improvements to a park in Clackamas County.
Well, now somebody is finally doing something about it. On October 31, 2011, the group Citizens for Water Accountability, Trust & Reform hand delivered a letter to City Hall demanding repayment of these misappropriated funds (see below for full press release).
Let’s hope the pending litigation is successful on behalf of all ratepayers.
CITIZENS FOR WATER ACCOUNTABILITY, TRUST & REFORM
PO Box 8252, Portland Or 97207
RATEPAYER GROUP ISSUES DEMAND LETTER TO CITY OF PORTLAND
“STOP MISUSE OF WATER & SEWER FUNDS OR FACE LAWSUIT”
For Immediate Release
CONTACT: Kent Craford
Portland (OR): A newly formed citizen ratepayer organization, Citizens for Water
Accountability, Trust & Reform (WATR) has issued a letter to Portland city officials
demanding that the city immediately stop charging water and sewer ratepayers for
expenditures on “unrelated” items and that the millions of dollars siphoned from the
funds over the last few years be restored to the water and sewer funds.
The letter addressed to Mayor Sam Adams and all city commissioners, was hand
delivered on Monday afternoon, October 31st. The document, issued by the law firm of
Davis, Wright, Tremaine, on behalf of WATR, gives the city until November 15th to
rectify the issue or face litigation to protect Portland ratepayers.
“Portland ratepayers have seen their water and sewer rates skyrocket the past few
years while the city continues to tap the fund for non-water or sewer related services,”
said Kent Craford, President of WATR.
“We believe the city has and continues to violate the Portland City Charter by diverting
funds for unrelated general fund purposes. Despite much public disclosure by citizens
and the media on the issue, the city continues to violate not only its own law but also the
trust of the citizens of Portland. It is time the city be held accountable for violation of that
trust and provide some relief from these spiraling rates,” Craford added.
WATR has retained the law firm of Davis, Wright, Tremaine, with John DiLorenzo as
lead attorney. DiLorenzo has won a number of high-profile cases including action
against SAIF Corporation that led to a complete overhaul of the insurer’s leadership and
board of directors. The organization has also retained Parakletos Strategic Affairs to
help develop strategic options and assist in executing its plan. Parakletos is led by Rick
Metsger, a strong and successful ratepayer advocate during his twelve years in the
Oregon Senate. He sponsored and passed SB 408 in 2005 which stopped utilities from
charging ratepayers for taxes that the utilities subsequently never paid.
“We are happy to have Mr. DiLorenzo and Mr. Metsger helping us in this battle to
restore fairness to Portland’s ratepayers. Citizens have exhausted their options to have
the city voluntarily correct this misappropriation of citizen’s hard-earned dollars which
we believe are dedicated to sewer and water services. It is time this injustice be
corrected and we believe we have assembled a team that will help us do just that,”
The Demand Letter cites numerous expenditures from the water and sewer funds that
were unrelated to essential water and sewer services, including using the fund to help
pay for the political campaigns of city council candidates. (The entire Demand Letter
listing some of the other expenditures is attached to this release).