Citizens say officials spend ratepayers' money on pet projects

A new group is suing the city of Portland to halt what it says is the city's practice of billing water and sewer ratepayers for public officials' pet projects that are unrelated to water and sewer services.

Citizens for Water Accountability, Trust and Reform Inc., along with former City Commissioner Lloyd E. Anderson and other citizens, are hoping to halt the city's practice, which they say violates the city charter.

In addition, the lawsuit filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court seeks an independent audit of city water and sewer spending. The ultimate goal is to scour the city's water and sewer budgets for projects funded by ratepayers that aren't essential to those services, and convince a judge to order the city to reimburse the water and sewer funds so ratepayers don't have to foot those bills.

'For 10 years, the city has been using water and sewer funds for purposes that have nothing to do with water and sewer services,' said Kent Craford, one of the key players backing the lawsuit, who also represents industrial clients who are major water users.

Some of the questionable projects funded by ratepayers have been highlighted by media reports and a March report by the city auditor's office, said John DiLorenzo Jr., a Portland attorney who filed the suit.

Some examples: publicly financed political campaigns; purchase and renovation of the Rose Festival building at Waterfront Park, and purchase of River View Cemetery land for a city park.

Those projects already identified are just 'tip of the iceberg,' DiLorenzo said. 'What we believe is that we've simple scratched the surface.'

The city has 30 days to file a response to the lawsuit, though the litigation likely will take months to resolve. No court date has been set for the lawsuit.

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