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Water district petitions filed

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO BY JONATHAN HOUSE - Floy Jones and Kent Craford deliver 50,213 signatures in support of the Portland Public water District to City Hall on Tuesday. They need around 30,000 valid ones for the meaure to make it on the May Primary Election ballot.Supporters of an independently elected Portland Public Water District filed 50,213 voter signatures with the City Auditor's Office on Tuesday morning.

They need around 30,000 valid signatures to place their initiative measure on the May Primary Election ballot. The verification process could take several weeks.

"We are confident we are going to make it," said Kent Craford, a former lobbyist and chief co-petitioner.

Craford and Floy Jones, the other chief co-petitioner, said the district is needed to rein in rate increases for the Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services, which operates the city sewer system and stormwater management programs.

"We need to take the bureaus away from professional politicians and put it under the control of citizens who will not spend ratepayer money on their cronies and pet projects," said Craford.

Commissioner Nick Fish, who is in charge of both bureaus, said he would welcome the debate if the measure makes it on the ballot.

"The bureaus are already under new management," said Fish, who was assigned them by Mayor Charlie Hales last July.

According to Fish, since Hales became mayor, rate increases for the bureaus have been trimmed from double-digets to around 5 percent. Fish said he has also taken steps to rein in spending since being assigned the bureaus.

Among other things, Fish sold the controversial Water House demonstration project and helped convince the City Council to enter into a five-year agreement with the statewide Citizens Utility Board to review the bureaus' budgets and recommend savings.

"Portlanders will need to decide if they want an additional, unproven layer of government running the bureaus" if the measure qualifies for the ballot," Fish said.

In some respects, the campaign is already underway. A number of environmental groups have already come out against the measure. Hales and Fish have publicly criticized it. And Craford has responded to the criticisms by saying most of it comes from City Hall insiders.

The petition campaign was financed by Portlanders for Water Reform. It reports over $160,000 in contributions so far. Major donations include $55,000 from the Siltronic Corporation, $50,000 from the Portland Bottling Company, and $25,000 from Amercian Property Management.