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City Hall takes up water, sewer rates

Forums set for Monday and Tuesday

The idea of an independent commission to review and help set Portland water and sewer rates is picking up steam. Three public forums on the topic are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday at City Hall.

Public outrage about skyrocketing rates is growing after years of double-digit increases approved by the City Council. Some of the increases have funded the $1.4 billion Combined Sewer Overflow project that is decreasing sewage spills into the Willamette River. Although that project will soon be finished, water rates are projected to increase 85 percent in coming years to fund projects required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A recent review by the city auditor's office also faulted the council for approving more than $4 million in water rates for projects not directly related to delivery of water.

In response, the independent Charter Review Commission authorized by Portland voters has formed a subcommittee to consider creating a body to review or propose rate increases in the City Charter. The commission has the authority to place charter amendments directly on the ballot without City Council approval.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman has also proposed that the council create an independent commission to monitor water and sewer spending, and to recommend rate increases for approval by the council. The proposal would place the commission in the auditor's office.

The review commission subcommittee will hold a public hearing on the idea of including an Independent Public Utility Commission in the charter from 4 to 6 p.m. on Monday, July 18, in the Pettygrove Room on the second floor of City Hall, 1221 S.W. Fourth Ave.

After that, the full commission will hold a public forum on the idea of an Independent Public Utility Rate Commission from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall. The commission is interested in learning what features Portlanders would like to see it include.

Next the council will discuss Saltzman's proposal at a work session scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, July 19. Although public testimony will not be taken, ideas generated at Monday's sessions are likely to be shared with the council members.

And the subcommittee has also scheduled a meeting on the utility review commission from 4 to 6 p.m. on Monday, July 25, in the Pettygrove Room at City Hall.

Despite the flurry of activity, the commission and council have not yet set votes on the issue.