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Petition drive set for water and sewer district

Petitions will soon begin circulating for the proposed ballot measure to create an elected Portland water and sewer district.

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Leslie Roberts issued a new ballot title for the measure Thursday. The original title written by the City Attorney's Office had been challenged by the measure's sponsors and Vanessa Keitges, who owns Columbia Green, an eco-roof business.

"We're excited to be be able to get started and will have petition gatherers in the field in a few days," says Kent Craford, a lobbyist and chief co-sponsor of the measure.

Craford and co-sponsor Floy Jones of Friends of the Reservoirs have until Jan. 21 to collect approximately 30,000 valid signatures from Portland voters to place the measure on the May Primary Election ballot.

The measure is supported by a number of companies that use large quantities of Portland's water. They are upset over large increases in the city's combined water and sewer rates regularly approved by the City Council.

The title written by Roberts says the measure creates a water and sewer district outside the control of the City Council or City Auditor. Control of the city's water and sewer operation would be transferred to a seven-member board elected by zones approximating the boundaries of the Portland School Board. The board would have the authority to set water and sewer rates, approve operating and capital constructions budgets, issue bonds and create city debt, and hire and fire employees. The district cannot privatize the city water system or make watershed regulations less "protective," a term that is not defined in the measure.

Craford says he and Jones got some of what they wanted in the title, but that Keitges, who opposes the measure, probably got more.

In an unusual opinion issued with the title, Roberts questioned the wording of some aspects of the measure, including prohibitions to "privatize" or "regionalize" the city's water system.

Roberts also questioned whether voters outside of the Portland school boundaries would be allowed to vote for the district members. Craford says the measure requires the City Council to establish the actual boundaries, and only cites the school district as an example.

And Roberts wrote that the costs of creating and operating the district cannot be determined at this time.

A website supporting the measure went live shortly after the title was issued. It is sponsored by Portlanders for Water Reform, the political action committee formed to place the measure on the ballot and pass it. It reports raising $66,100 to date. Major contributions include $25,000 from the Portland Bottling Company, $20,000 from American Property Management, and $10,000 each from Commerce Properties and the Siltroinic Corporation. The website is www.waterreform.org