OPINION M26-219: Don't open the spigot to higher water rates
"Measure would allow Council to raise water rates to pay for costs created by such incidental uses."
So says the ballot title for Portland Measure 26-219. Could it get any clearer? They're going to raise your water bill, even higher, but this time for things that have nothing to do with water service. Don't let them. Please vote no.
This measure will change the city charter — Portland's Constitution — to allow the city to charge you through your water bill, for the first time ever, for things unrelated to the water system. It's a blank check for abuse, leading to higher rates and higher rents.
Over the years, City Hall has siphoned millions from our water bills for their pet projects, including a million-dollar "caretaker" house at Powell Butte and the downtown Rose Festival building remodel, among others. These expenditures had nothing to do with the water system, they were illegal uses of your water bill money according to the charter. Thankfully, a judge slapped the city's hand from the cookie jar. Over $10 million has been recovered for ratepayers so far, with more to come.
But when they don't like what the judge says, what are money-hungry politicians to do? Change the rules, of course! Measure 26-219 is their scheme to remove ratepayer protections from the city charter — the only thing keeping politicians from using your water bill as an ATM card for their pet projects.
They say they need more money for good things that you want — like parks, parks and more parks! But with a $239 million parks bond on this same ballot, why do we need to make our water bills a cash register for parks, too? Should water bills pay for more than just water? The current city charter says no. That's why they want to change it.
If Measure 26-219 passes, anything City Hall decides to call an "incidental use" (undefined) of Water Bureau property will be fair game to spend water bill money — a homeless camp in your neighborhood, another million-dollar water house, or even $25 million on landscaping. Water funds could now be used for any number of current and future City Hall pet projects.
Water rates have skyrocketed far above inflation over the last 15 years, with city budget documents projecting that the water portion alone (not sewer) of the typical residential customer will rise from $14.60 in 2002 to $81.53 by 2027. When water rates rise, landlords pass on the costs, rents rise, making Portland unaffordable. Water is a basic human necessity. The provision of water service shouldn't be larded up with extra unrelated costs. It's bad policy, and it hurts those who can only afford the water.
Please prevent City Hall from using water customers as a piggy bank. Vote no on Measure 26-219.
Kent Craford is president of Citizens for Water Accountability, Trust and Reform. He lives in Northeast Portland.
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